Article 356 of the Indian Constitution

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    Recently in Rajya Sabha the Prime Minister highlighted the misuse of Article 356 in the past by the Union Government.

    What is Article 356?

    • Article 356 of the Indian Constitution contains provisions for the imposition of “President’s Rule” in a state and removing an elected government in case of failure of constitutional machinery in States.
      • Whether the constitutional machinery has broken down may be determined by the President at any time, either upon receipt of a report from the Governor, or suo motu.
    • Ground: Article 356 empowers the President to withdraw to the Union the executive and legislative powers of any state “if he is satisfied that a situation has arisen in which the government of the state cannot be carried on in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution”.
    • Duration of President’s Rule: President’s Rule in a state can be imposed for six months at a time for a maximum duration of three years. 
      • Every six months, Parliamentary approval to impose President’s Rule will be required again.
    • Origin: Article 356 was inspired by Section 93 of the Government of India Act, 1935 with the difference that instead of the Governor, the President is vested with the said power . For the British, this provision allowed for a ‘controlled democracy’ – allowing the British authorities to exercise ultimate power when they deemed necessary.

    Need of the Article 356

    • Several members of the Constituent Assembly strongly opposed the incorporation of article 356 (draft article 278) precisely for the reason that it purported to reincarnate an imperial legacy, it was yet thought necessary to have it in the view of the problems that the Indian republic was expected to face soon after independence. 
      • The socio-political experience of the framers of the Constitution made them acutely aware that security of the Nation and the stability of its polity could not be taken for granted. 
      • The vast difference in social, economic, and political life, the diversity in languages, race, and region were expected to present the nascent republic with many difficult situation. 
    • However, these objections were overridden by Dr. Ambedkar with the argument that no provision of any Constitution is immune from abuse as such and that mere possibility of abuse cannot be a ground for not incorporating it.
      • We ought to expect that such articles will never be called into operation and that they would remain a dead letter. If at all they are brought into operation, I hope the President will take proper precautions before actually suspending the administration of the provinces.

    Misuse of Article 356

    • While the Constitution intended Article 356 to be used only under extraordinary circumstances, central governments repeatedly used the provision to settle political scores.
    • In the past, the President’s Rule has been extended for significantly longer periods under specific circumstances. For instance, Punjab was under President’s Rule from 1987-1992 due to the growing militancy.
    • As per the Sarkaria commission the use of article 356 has been rising with the passage of time.

    Supreme Court’s Observations

    • In 1989, the Centre dismissed the S R Bommai government in Karnataka.
    • In it’s judgment the Supreme Court held that Article 356 can be invoked in situations of the physical breakdown of the government or when there is a ‘hung assembly’, but that it cannot be used without giving the state government a chance to either prove its majority in the House or without instances of a violent breakdown of the constitutional machinery.
      • A hung Assembly is when no single political party wins a majority, it is also known as a situation of no overall control.
    • Since the judgment, the arbitrary use of Article 356 has been largely controlled.

    Relevant Committees/Commissions with respect to Article 356

    • Views of Sarkaria Commission on Article 356: The framers of the constitution expected that these provisions would be called into operation rarely, in extreme cases, as a last resort when all alternative correctives fail. 
      • The Commission then pointed out that ‘failure of constitutional machinery‘ can be examined under four heads, namely, (a) political crisis, (b) internal subversion, (c) physical breakdown and (d) non-compliance with constitutional directions of the Union Executive. 
    • View of National Commission to Review Working of the Constitution 2001:
      • The commission suggested that the stage to delete Article 356  has not yet arrived in the constitutional development, but the proper use of the Article can be ensured by appropriate amendments.

    Emergency Provisions

    • Part XVIII of the Constitution speaks of emergency provisions. 
    • The emergency provisions can be classified into three categories: 
      • Articles 352, 353, 354, 358, and 359 which relate to National emergency,
      • Articles 355, 356, and 357 which deal with the imposition of President’s rule in States in a certain situation and, 
      • Article 360 which speaks of financial emergency.

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