The Karnataka post-election scenario has repeatedly brought up the S.R. Bommai case. But what is the case all about?

Who was S.R. Bommai?

S.R. Bommai was the Chief Minister of the Janata Dal government in Karnataka between August 13, 1988 and April 21, 1989. Article 356 was used to dismiss his government on April 21, 1989. The premise was the loss of majority of the Bommai government because of large-scale defections. Bommai was refused a chance to test his majority in the Assembly even though Bommai had presented a copy of the resolution passed by the Janata Dal Legislature Party.

What took place then?

The Governor’s decision to recommend President’s Rule was contested by Bommai in court. His writ petition was dismissed initially by the Karnataka High Court. He then went to the Supreme court.

What was the Supreme court’s ruling?

It took five years for the case to be settled at the Supreme court. It however has become the most cited case in cases of hung Assemblies and a rush for government formation claims by multiple parties. The Supreme Court, comprising of a nine-judge Constitution Bench, settled allegations of arbitrary dismissal of State governments under Article 356 and spelled out restrictions on March 11, 1994.

What is the judgement?

According to the constitution bench ruling, the power of the President to dismiss a State government is not absolute. Such power can only be exercised and implemented by the President only after ratification by both Houses of Parliament, the verdict said. Until such time, the Legislative Assembly can only be suspended by the President, the court ruled. “The dissolution of Legislative Assembly is not a matter of course. It should be resorted to only where it is found necessary for achieving the purposes of the Proclamation,” the Court said.

What is the outcome in case of non-ratification of such proclamation by parliament?

“In case both Houses of Parliament disapprove or do not approve the Proclamation, the Proclamation lapses at the end of the two-month period. In such a case, the government which was dismissed revives. The Legislative Assembly, which may have been kept in suspended animation gets reactivated,” the Court said. The imposition of Article 356 is subject to judicial review the Court also ruled.

How is the S.R. Bommai vs Union important for India?

This case brought an end to the practice of dismissal of state governments by central governments that are hostile. It also established that majority can only be proven on the floor of the Assembly and it should not be a subjective opinion of the Governor.

“The Chief Minister of every State who has to discharge his constitutional functions will be in perpetual fear of the axe of Proclamation falling on him because he will not be sure whether he will remain in power or not and consequently he has to stand up every time from his seat without properly discharging his constitutional obligations and achieving the desired target in the interest of the State,” the Court said.

When was the verdict first used?

In 1999, the court forced the reinstatement of a government that had been dismissed by the A.B. Vajpayee government, was the first time that the case was used. The case was related to the sacking of the Rabri Devi government in Bihar which was dismissed on February 12, 1999 but was reinstated on March 8, 1999. This was done after there was enough evidence that the central government would lose the vote for passing the dismissal order of the state government in the Rajya Sabha.

(Adapted from TheHindu.com)