The landmark judgement of S.R. Bommai v. Union of India (1994) examined some principal issues of constitutional law relating to the nature of the Constitution, aspects of centre-state relations, circumstances under which imposition of President’s rule in states could be justified, the scope of judicial review of the President’s satisfaction in imposing president’s rule in a state, dissolution… Read More »

The landmark judgement of S.R. Bommai v. Union of India (1994) examined some principal issues of constitutional law relating to the nature of the Constitution, aspects of centre-state relations, circumstances under which imposition of President’s rule in states could be justified, the scope of judicial review of the President’s satisfaction in imposing president’s rule in a state, dissolution of the State Assembly and the effect of such dissolution on disapproval of the proclamation...

The landmark judgement of S.R. Bommai v. Union of India (1994) examined some principal issues of constitutional law relating to the nature of the Constitution, aspects of centre-state relations, circumstances under which imposition of President’s rule in states could be justified, the scope of judicial review of the President’s satisfaction in imposing president’s rule in a state, dissolution of the State Assembly and the effect of such dissolution on disapproval of the proclamation by Parliament, power of Supreme Court to invalidate the proclamation and its effect on the dissolution of the Assembly. Through this judgement, the Supreme Court had adjudged the constitutional validity of six proclamations issued under Article 356(1) in six different States during 1989 to 1992.

Citation: AIR 1994 SC 1918

Coram: Kuldeep Singh (J), P.B. Sawant (J), Katikithala (J), Ramaswamy (J), S.C. Agarwal (J), Yogeshwar Dayal (J), B.P. Jeevan Reddy (J), S.R. Pandian (J), A.M. Ahmadi (J), J.S. Verma (J).

Factual Background

The Janta Dal Ministry headed by Shri S.R. Bommai was in office in Karnataka. A number of members defected from the party and the Bommai ministry lost majority support. The Chief Minister called pon the Governor to conduct a floor test but the Governor ignored the suggestion and without thinking about the possibility of an alternative Government directly sent his report to the President to take action under Article 356(1) and the President on such recommendation issued the proclamation in April 1989.

Bommai challenged the validity of the proclamation before the High Court of Karnataka but the Court dismissed the petition holding that the facts stated in the Governor’s report could not be held to be irrelevant and also held that the floor test was neither mandatory nor obligatory & was not a prerequisite to sending of report to the President. Bommai appealed to the Supreme Court against this decision of the High Court.

Besides, the Karnataka Proclamation the Supreme Court was called upon to decide the validity of similar proclamations under Article 356(1) in the States of Meghalaya and Nagaland. Also, three other major proclamations were issued for the States of Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Rajasthan in 1992 in the wake of the Babari Masjid demolition.

Issues Involved

  1. The validity of Proclamation issued under Article 356(1) & its grounds of justiciability.
  2. The scope of judicial review of the President’s rule in States under Article 356 and the nature of Indian Polity.

Judgement

The Supreme Court through its nine-judge Bench after examining the issues held by the majority that the Karnataka, Meghalaya and Nagaland proclamations as unconstitutional but the proclamations in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh as valid.

The Supreme Court enunciated the following propositions and the scope of judicial review in relation to Article 356(1):

  • The President exercises his power under Article 356(1) on the advice of the Council of Ministers though it is formally vested on the President, the real power is vested in the Council of Ministers.
  • The Chief Minister of a State has lost his majority has to be decided on the floor of the House and not in the Governor’s Chambers before the recommendation of President’s rule.
  • The Court ruled that the Karnataka High Court was wrong in holding that the floor test was neither compulsory nor obligatory nor a pre-requisite to sending a report to the President for his action under Article 356(1).
  • The Governor should explore the possibility of installing an alternative Ministry when the erstwhile Ministry loses support in the House.
  • The grounds of justiciability of a proclamation issued under the same should be i.e, whether it was issued on any material, whether the material was relevant or whether the proclamation issued was in mala fides exercise of power or based on extraneous or irrelevant grounds.
  • There should be material before the President indicating that the Government of the State cannot be carried on in accordance with the Constitution and the material should be such which would induce any reasonable man to come to such conclusion. ‘The satisfaction of the President’ based on such material evidence will not be questioned and if not then it is open to be challenged.
  • Jeevan Reddy, J elaborated that Article 356 confers upon the President conditioned power i.e not absolute power and his satisfaction should be formed on the relevant material.
  • When a prima facie case is made out against the validity of the proclamation, it is for the Central Government to prove that relevant material did exist which could either be the report of the Governor or any other material.
  • The dissolution of the Legislative Assembly in the State is not an automatic consequence of the issuance of the proclamation and must not be done in every case unless found necessary for achieving the purpose of the proclamation.
  • The provisions of Article 356(3) are intended to be a check on the powers of the President under Article 356(1). If the proclamation is not approved within two months by the two Houses of the Parliament, then it automatically lapses i.e the President ought not to take any irreversible action till the proclamation is approved by the House of Parliament. Therefore, the state Assembly ought not to be dissolved.
  • The dissolution of the Assembly prior to the approval of the proclamation by the Parliament under Article 356(3) will be per se Once the Parliament has put its seal of approval on the proclamation, the State Assembly can then be dissolved and the Assembly which was suspended will revive and get reactivated if the proclamation is not approved by the Parliament.
  • Once the proclamation is approved by the Parliament, and then it lapses at the end of six months, or it is revoked earlier, neither the dismissed State Government nor the dissolved legislature will revive.
  • If the Court invalidates the proclamation, even if approved by the Parliament, the action of the President becomes invalid. The State Government if dismissed is revived and the State Assembly if dissolved will be restored.
  • Article 74(2) bars an inquiry into the question of whether any or on what advice was tendered by the Council of Ministers to the President. However, it does not bar the Court from calling upon the Union Council of Ministers to disclose to the Court the material upon which the President had formed the requisite satisfaction. The material on the basis of which the advice was tendered does not become part of the advice. Even if the material is looked into by or shown to the President, it does not partake the character of advice.
  • According to Jeevan Reddy, J, when called upon, the Union Government has to produce the material on the basis of which action was taken and cannot refuse to do so if it seeks to defend the action. The Court will not go into the correctness of the material or its adequacy but its inquiry is limited to see whether the material was relevant to take the action.

Applying these principles, the Karnataka, Meghalaya and Nagaland proclamations were invalidated. In the case of Karnataka, the Court ruled that the question of lack of majority support for the Ministry was not tested on the floor of the House and the Governor’s report was suggestive of mala fides and the proclamation based on such report was also mala fides and thus, was struck down.

The case of proclamations issued in the case of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh was a little different as none of the State Governments had lost their majority but the proclamations were issued in the wake of disturbances after of incidents at Ayodhya on 6 December 1992. In this case, the Court emphasised that the various constitutional provisions by implication prohibit the establishment of a theocratic state and prevent the State from either identifying itself with or favouring any particular religion or religious sect or denomination. The state is enjoined to accord equal treatment to all religions and sects. Religion cannot be mixed with any secular activity of the state.

In the words of Ratnavel Pandian, J, “In the matters of State, religion has no place. No political party can simultaneously be a religious party and politics and religion cannot be mixed.” If any Government acts in a manner in which it subverts or sabotages the spirit of secularism which is enshrined in the Indian Constitution then it can lawfully be regarded that a situation has arisen in which the State Government cannot be carried out in accordance with the constitutional provisions. The three proclamations were thus held valid on this ground.

Conclusion

The Supreme Court, therefore, emphasised the strengthening of the parliamentary form of government and held that the term ‘democratic’ signifies that India has a responsible and parliamentary form of government that is accountable to an elected legislature. The Supreme Court has declared ‘democracy’ as the basic feature of the Indian Constitution. The Preamble of the Constitution was held to be an integral part of the Constitution and with-it a democratic form of government, federal structure, unity and integrity of the nation, secularism, socialism, social justice and judicial review were also held to be the basic features of the Constitution.

The constitution-makers while adopting a pluralistic democratic system implied different political parties may be in power in different states therefore granting absolute power cannot be conceded to the Executive under Article 356(1) that might undermine the democratic spirit of the Indian Constitution. But, in cases where the ideals of the Constitution are being sacrificed and sabotaged breaking the constitutional machinery then invoking Article 356(1) becomes a sine qua non.


  1. Law Library: Notes and Study Material for LLB, LLM, Judiciary and Entrance Exams
  2. Legal Bites Academy – Ultimate Test Prep Destination
Updated On 2022-01-18T07:21:09+05:30
Ritika Chaturvedi

Ritika Chaturvedi

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