S R Bommai vs Union of India: How Bommai senior played a key role in Indian politics
New Delhi, July 28: Basavaraj Bommai replaced B S Yediyurappa as the Chief Minister of Karnataka. Bommai's father had a brief stint as CM of the state in the 1980s, but he managed to make a great impact in Indian politics.
Each time there is a crisis of numbers in an assembly, the S R Bommai landmark verdict is cited. Known as the S R Bommai vs Union of India case, in this verdict the Supreme Court discussed at length Article 356 of the Indian Constitution. It was in this verdict that the Supreme Court laid down guidelines which curbed blatant misuse of Article 356 of the Constitution which allowed President rules to be imposed over state governments.
The case came up before a 9 judge Bench of the Supreme Court. The Janata Party had formed the government in Karnataka with Bommai at the helm. In 1988, the Janata Party merged with the Lok Dal and was then called as the Janata Dal. Following this the ministry was expanded with 13 members and days later Molakery a legislator of the Janata Dal defected from the party.
He then presented a letter to the Governor along with 19 letters said to be signed by legislators in which it was stated that they were withdrawing support. The Governor then said that Bommai did not command a majority and then recommended President's rule in the state.
Bommai then met with the Governor and asked him to summon the Assembly so that he could prove the confidence of the Assembly in his ministry. The Governor however sent another report and said that the CM had lost the confidence of the majority.
The issue then went to court. The 9 Judge Bench then laid down the following guidelines to prevent the misuse of Article 356:
The majority enjoyed by the Council of Ministers shall be tested on the floor of the House.
Centre should give a warning to the state and a time period of one week to reply.
The court cannot question the advice tendered by the CoMs to the President but it can question the material behind the satisfaction of the President. Hence, Judicial Review will involve three questions only:
a. Is there any material behind the proclamation
b. Is the material relevant.
c. Was there any malafide use of power.
If there is improper use of Article 356 then the court will provide remedy.
Under Article 356(3) it is the limitation on the powers of the President. Hence, the president shall not take any irreversible action until the proclamation is approved by the Parliament i.e. he shall not dissolve the assembly.
Article 356 is justified only when there is a breakdown of constitutional machinery and not administrative machinery.