Call Us Now

+91 9606900005 / 04

For Enquiry

Legacy of S. R. Bommai v. Union of India Case


The S. R. Bommai v. Union of India case, decided by a nine-judge bench of the Supreme Court of India in 1994, restricts the arbitrary dismissal of state governments under Article 356. Celebrating its 30th anniversary, its impact persists in shaping India’s constitutional framework.


GS II: Polity and Governance

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. S. R. Bommai v. Union of India case
  2. Significance of S.R. Bommai v. Union of India Case
  3. Article 356 of the Indian Constitution

S. R. Bommai v. Union of India case

Background of the Case:

  • In 1985, Karnataka’s government changed hands to the Janata Party, led by Chief Minister Ramakrishna Hegde.
  • SR Bommai succeeded Hegde as Chief Minister in 1988.
  • A significant defection from the Janata Dal party in 1988 led to the loss of majority support for Bommai’s government.
  • The state government was dismissed under Article 356 due to this loss of majority, despite Bommai’s request to prove his majority in the Assembly being denied.
Supreme Court Ruling:
  • A nine-judge bench of the Supreme Court delivered the ruling.
  • Emphasized the cautious exercise of power under Article 356, aligning with the views of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar and the recommendations of the Sarkaria Commission.
  • Stressed the need for thorough parliamentary scrutiny of the Presidential Proclamation under Article 356(3).
  • Declared that if the proclamation lacks parliamentary approval, it lapses within two months, and the state assembly resumes its functions.
  • Confirmed the judiciary’s authority to subject the proclamation to judicial review and entertain writ petitions challenging its legality.
  • Clarified that the President’s power to dismiss a state government is not absolute but subject to limitations.
  • Recognized implicit powers in Article 356 regarding the dissolution of the legislature, inferred from Article 174(2) and Article 356(1)(a), pertaining to the Governor’s authority and the President’s ability to assume state government powers.

Significance of S.R. Bommai v. Union of India Case:

  • Landmark Judgment: The case stands as a landmark judgment of the Supreme Court, particularly regarding the basic structure doctrine and the misuse of Article 356.
  • Clarity on Article 356: The judgment offered clarity on the scope and limitations of Article 356, stressing its use only in exceptional circumstances.
  • Alignment with Sarkaria Commission: The principles outlined by the Supreme Court were in line with the recommendations of the Sarkaria Commission, which examined Centre-State relations.
  • Affirmation of Federalism: It affirmed the principles of federalism, highlighting that state governments are not subordinate to the central government, promoting cooperative federalism.
  • Judicial Scrutiny: The judgment reinforced the role of the judiciary in scrutinizing the President’s actions under Article 356, ensuring adherence to constitutional principles and preventing misuse of power.
  • Sole Authority of Assembly: It clarified that the floor of the Assembly is the sole authority to test the government’s majority, emphasizing the objective assessment over the subjective opinion of the Governor.

Article 356 of the Indian Constitution:

Background of Article 356:
  • Federal vs. Unitary System: During the Constituent Assembly discussions, the debate centered around adopting either a federal or unitary system of government in India.
  • Dr. Ambedkar’s Clarification: Dr. Ambedkar clarified that India operates under both federal and unitary principles, with federalism prevailing under normal circumstances and unitary control during emergencies.
  • Misuse of Article 356: Despite warnings against its misuse, subsequent governments frequently invoked Article 356 for political reasons, leading to its invocation 132 times.
Key Provisions of Article 356:
  • Basis: Article 356 is based on Section 93 of the Government of India Act, 1935.
  • Grounds for Imposition: It allows for the imposition of President’s Rule on any state of India on the grounds of the failure of the constitutional machinery.
  • Two Situations: President’s Rule can be imposed when the President receives a report from the state’s Governor or when a state fails to comply with directions from the Union government.
  • Consequences: During President’s Rule, the state government is suspended, and the central government administers the state directly through the Governor.
  • Parliamentary Approval: Imposition of President’s Rule requires parliamentary approval within two months through a simple majority in both Houses of Parliament.
  • Duration: Initially for six months, it can be extended for up to three years with parliamentary approval every six months.
  • 44th Amendment: The 44th Amendment introduced constraints on extending President’s Rule beyond one year, allowing extension only in case of a national emergency or if certified necessary by the Election Commission due to difficulties in conducting state assembly elections.
  • Sarkaria Commission and Bommai Case: The Supreme Court, based on the Sarkaria Commission’s report, outlined situations where the exercise of power under Article 356 could be proper or improper, as seen in the Bommai case (1994).

-Source: Hindustan Times

May 2024