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President’s Rule

Grounds of Imposition

Every time a state loses its ability to function as per the Constitution, it comes under the direct control of the central government, which is referred as the President’s rule.

On the ground level, the responsibility of the state administration is shifted to the Governor. The President’s rule, which is also known as the state emergency, had been imposed time and again in different states for varied reasons.

One of the most common reasons for the imposition of such a rule is the breakdown of a coalition. Failure of the state legislature to elect a leader as Chief Minister is also a prime cause for this kind of arrangement.

In some cases it has been observed that the President’s rule was brought into effect since Assembly elections were postponed for unavoidable reasons. Such a rule is also imposed at times when the security of the state is threatened either by external aggression or internal disturbances.

Till the mid 90s, there had been instances wherein the Governors were accused of abusing their authority in collusion with the state government. Under such circumstances also the President’s rule was imposed.

The President relies on the report of the Governor of the concerned state and other sources to arrive at a decision. It is to be noted that Parliament must approve such an arrangement within two months of its coming into effect.

Generally, President’s rule is imposed for six months. However, the duration can be extended to three years by getting parliamentary approval every six months. There had been exceptional cases in the past wherein the state emergency was extended for more than three years. For such cases, a constitutional amendment is needed.

Till the time President’s rule is in effect, the Parliament makes laws on the 66 subjects of the state list (subjects on which the state governments can make laws). Moreover, it’s the Parliament that needs to approve all money bills during the state emergency.


Parliamentary Approval and Duration

A proclamation imposing President’s Rule must be approved by both the Houses of Parliament within two months from the date of its issue. However, if the proclamation is issued at a time when the Lok Sabha has been dissolved or the dissolution of Lok Sabha takes place during the period of two months without approving the proclamation, then the proclamation has to be approved by the Lok Sabha within 30 days from its first sitting after its reconstitution, provided the Rajya Sabha approves it in the meantime.

If approved by both the Houses of Parliament, the President’s Rule continues for six months. It can be extended for a maximum period of three years with the approval of Parliament, every six months. However, it is provided that beyond one year, the President’s Rule can be extended by six months at a time only when the following two conditions are fulfilled:

  1. A proclamation of National Emergency should be in operation in whole of India, or in the whole or any part of the state; and
  2. The Election Commission must certify that the general election to the legislative assembly of the concerned state cannot be held due to difficulties.

Every resolution approving the proclamation or continuance of the President’s Rule can be passed by a simple majority, that is a majority of the members present and voting of that House. It must be passed both the Houses separately. Since only simple majority is required in any of the House, it is easy for any government to gain this much support with little political maneuver.

Moreover, generally proclamation of President’s Rule is on valid constitutional grounds, opposition parties readily give their support to the government.

The Supreme Court in Bommai case (1994) enlisted the situations where the exercise of the power under Article 356 would be proper, based on the recommendations of Sarkaria Commission on Centre-State Relations such as:

  1. Hung assembly,
  2. Party having majority declines to form a ministry and governor can find a coalition ministry,
  3. A ministry resigns and no other party is willing or able to form the government,
  4. A constitutional direction of the Centre is disregarded by the state government,
  5. Government is deliberately acting against the Constitution and law or is fomenting a violent revolt,
  6. State government willfully refuses to discharge its constitutional obligations endangering the security of the state.

President’s rule (state emergency) is not one that can be wielded arbitrarily against or for any political party. It is often the need of the hour, where the President’s rule is the last semblance of constitutional order remaining for the state to slip into. President’s rule is like a life-boat. Party politics, ideally, should not be part of deciding whether it should be imposed.

The President declares a state of emergency in the state (or part of the state), on the (binding) recommendation of the Prime Minister and the Council of Ministers. This is to be approved by the Parliament within 2 months of proclamation (or within 30 days of first sitting of the Lok Sabha, in case it was dissolved, while the Rajya Sabha approves it in the meantime).

So, that’s how the Parliament can exercise any control over arbitrary imposition of state emergency.

Consequences of President’s Rule

In the normal process, the State Government works as per the direction of the Chief Minister and his council of Ministers in the name of the Governor. Being a quasi federal nation, the Central Government cannot interfere in the functioning of the State Government with respect to matters mentioned in List II, Schedule 7 of the Constitution.

In the case where the constitutional machinery of the State breaks down, Article 356 of the Constitution is imposed and the power to regulate the State moves to the Governor who acts under the President.

Since the President acts on the advice of the Prime Minister and the Council of Ministers, therefore the Governor functions as per the requirements of the Central Government. The State Government and the State Legislature have no power to carry out their usual activities as provided in the Constitution, instead those powers are transferred to the Union Government and the Parliament.

The state comes under the direct control of the Central government. The authority shifts from the Chief Minister and the Council of Ministers to the Governor.

The assembly is kept in suspended animation (temporary cessation). The Governor gets the power to appoint retired civil servants and some administrators to assist him who will take on the role and responsibilities of the Council of Ministers.

Use of Article 356

Article 356 is inspired by sections 93 of the Government of India Act, 1935, which provided that if a Governor of a province was satisfied that a situation had arisen in which the government of the province cannot be carried on in accordance with the provisions of the said Act, he could assume to himself all or any of the powers of the government and discharge those functions in his discretion.

The Governor, however, cannot encroach upon the powers of the high court. This background has imbued this article with a whiff of a ‘controlled democracy’, which is what the British would have intended then.

As the idea that India is a federation of states gained currency, regional and Left parties articulated why federalism was important and the Opposition would protest almost every time Article 356 was imposed.

The Sarkaria Commission noted that while in the first few years after the Constitution, it was invoked only thrice; between 1975 and ‘79, it was invoked 21 times; and between 1980 and ‘87, 18 times.

In 1989, after the Centre dismissed the SR Bommai government in Karnataka, SC had said the validity of a proclamation for President’s rule can be subjected to judicial review.

The Article has almost always been used to dismiss state governments where the party in power is not the same as that ruling at the Centre.

However, a rare exception would be the imposition of President’s Rule in Punjab for over a year by the Indira Gandhi government in 1983. The then Punjab Chief Minister Darbara Singh was battling militancy in 1983.

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