Explained: Amid Maharashtra drama, recalling a landmark SC judgment–S R Bommai

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News:The Supreme Court has directed the Maharashtra Governor to ensure that the trust vote be held on November 28,2019.Several important observations were made by the Court from the ‘Bommai case’.

Facts:

About S.R Bommai vs Union of India case:

  • S.R. Bommai was the Chief Minister of the Janata Dal government in Karnataka.
  • His government was dismissed in 1989 under Article 356 of the Constitution and President’s Rule was imposed.
  • The dismissal was on the grounds that the Bommai government had lost majority following large-scale defections engineered.
  • The then Governor refused to give Bommai an opportunity to test his majority in the Assembly despite the latter presenting him with a copy of the resolution passed by the Janata Dal Legislature Party.
  • Bommai party went to Supreme Court against the Governor’s decision to recommend President’s Rule.

What was the Supreme Court ruling?

  • The Supreme Court has laid down a number of guidelines to curb the Centre’s capacity to dismiss a state government, and upheld the federal structure enshrined in the Constitution.
  • The ruling laid down the law that the only way to determine support enjoyed by a particular state government would be by means of a floor test.
  • The court also ruled that the validity of a proclamation of President’s Rule is subject to judicial review.
  • Further,it said that the only time the President shall have unconditional powers to dissolve a state government is when there is a complete breakdown of constitutional machinery.
  • The judgment also underlined the secular nature of the Constitution and said that a party cannot resort to religion for the sake of gaining power and, if found to be indulging in religious politics, could be acted against using Article 356.

Significance of the ruling:

  • Since the Constitution came into force,President’s Rule under Article 356 has been imposed on states on several occasions.However,these instances declined considerably after the S R Bommai ruling.
  • The judgement has become one of the most cited whenever hung Assemblies were returned and parties scrambled to form a government.

Additional information:

Other cases referred by Supreme Court:

Jagdambika Pal vs Union of India:

  • In 1999,the matter had come to the Supreme Court after UP Governor had sacked Kalyan Singh as chief minister and appointed Congress leader Jagdambika Pal as his successor. 
  • In this case,the court had ordered composite floor test between contending parties in order to see which out of the two contesting claimants of chief ministership had a majority in the House. 

Union of India vs Harish Chandra Singh Rawat:

  • In 2016,Uttarakhand Chief Minister Harish Rawat had moved the apex court after the government dismissed the then Congress government and imposed President’s rule after nine Congress MLAs sided with the BJP on the Appropriation Bill. 
  • The rebel MLAs were subsequently disqualified by the Speaker under the anti-defection law, a decision that was upheld by the high court and the Supreme Court. 
  • In its order,the top court had directed that floor test be conducted on a special session of Uttarakhand Legislative Assembly to be convened in which the only agenda would be a vote of confidence.