Case Commentaries



1994 SCC (3) 1

Ms Shruti Upadhyay, Mr Kumar Amogh

1. Introduction

The case S.R Bommai v. Union of India {1994 SCC (3) 1} is one of the landmark judgments given by the Supreme Court. In this case, the Supreme Court dealt with the provisions of the article 356 of the Constitution and issues related to it. Article 356 had been misused many a times by the government at the centre to dissolve the legislature of any federal state and to proclaim state emergency in that state. When the same situation occurred during the tenure of Somappa Rayappa Bommai as Chief Minister for the state of Karnataka, he filed a petition in the High Court of Karnataka and when the plea was dismissed he appealed in the Supreme Court.

2. Description/Background of the Case

Fact of the Case - S.R Bommai was the 11thChief Minister for the State of Karnataka. During his tenure, on 21st April, 1989, his government was dismissed and State Emergency was imposed in the State under Article 356 of the Indian Constitution. As a result, the State Assembly was dissolved and the state was directly under the control of the President or in other words, directly under the control of the Centre. The dismissal was on the ground that the Bommai government had lost the majority following large - scale defections engineered by several party leaders.[1] However, Bommai asked the Governor to call for an assembly session where he can prove the majority but the Governor not only refused for this but also ignored the possibility of any alternative government and asked the President to take action under Article 356(1) of the Constitution. After this, Bommai approached the High Court of Karnataka through a writ petition (under the writ of mandamus) to challenge the order.

The High Court did state that Article 356(1) is not wholly outside the role of judicial scrutiny and it is the duty of the courts to examine whether the satisfaction of the President as stated under article 356(1) is bona fide with a rational nexus to the action proposed or the proclamation issued or not, however, in the end, the High Court dismissed the petition and held that the governor’s assessment was reasonable and floor test is neither compulsory nor obligatory nor pre – requisite before sending a report to the President.[2] After this, Bommai filed an appeal in the Supreme Court.

Legal History – The State of Karnataka was neither the first nor the only state to face such an issue. When Bommai had filed an appeal in the Supreme Court, it was found that there were three other proclamations under article 356 of the Constitution which were to be reviewed by the Supreme Court.[3]These included the State of Madhya Pradesh, State of Himachal Pradesh and State of Rajasthan. This shows that the political party which was at the union not only misused the provisions of the Constitution but also disturbed its federal structure. Thus, it was a high time for the Judiciary to take action against it.

3. Main Legal Issue/Issues before the court

The main legal issues that were before the court were as follows –

  1. The first and foremost issue was whether the      state emergency proclaimed under article 356 of the Constitution in the      state of Karnataka was constitutionally valid or not? And if it was valid,      then till which extent?

  2. The next issue was whether the President under      article 356(1) of the Constitution has uninhibited power or not? In simple      words, can there be a check on the power of the President under article      356(1)?

  3. The President works and act in accordance with      the advice of the Council of Ministers (headed by the Prime Minister) as      per article 74(1) of the Constitution and article 74(2) makes it clear      that no such advice can be questioned in any court of law. Thus, another      issue before the court was whether the advice given by the Council of      Ministers to proclaim a state emergency can be questioned in any court or      not?

  4. The fourth issue was whether a state assembly      can be revived if the proclamation of state emergency is declared void and      unconstitutional or not?

  5. Another question before the court was whether      article 356(1) can be challenged in the court of law if it has been      approved by both the houses of the Parliament?

  6. Next issue was whether any relief can be      granted when the proclamation of article 356 is being challenged or not?      Also, can any interim order be passed for the same?

  7. Last but not least, the question before the      Supreme Court was whether the President can dissolve assembly of any      federal state without getting the approval from both the houses of the      Parliament?

4. Analysis of the Case

In order to analyze the following case, the ratio decidendi which followed and what were its effects in the country, certain questions are written down below, answering which will do the full case analysis.

1. What was the ratio decidendi of the Supreme Court in the following case?

Ans. The following case was held by a bench of nine judges and the decision delivered was in the ratio of 7:2 which clearly states that the decision was a unanimous decision. The detailed judgement was as follow –

a) The Supreme Court of India declared that Secularism and federalism, are the ‘basic structure’ of the Indian Constitution and they cannot be amended under any circumstances. The Supreme Court said “The concept of Secularism had always been in the mind of our Constitution makers even though this word was added later via 42nd Amendment Act, 1976. This can be seen through the presence of article 25 in the constitution and liberty of faith, belief and worship in the Preamble.”

b) Although the power to proclaim state emergency under article 356(1) of the Constitution is vested in the President, the true power is enjoyed by the Council and Ministers and the Prime Minister. In words of Prof. M.P Jain, “The President exercises his power under Article 356(1) on the advice of the Council of Ministers to which, in effect, the power really belongs though it may be formally vested of in the President.”

c) The question whether the Chief Minister of any state has lost its majority or not is to be decided by conducting a floor test between the government and others on the floor of the house. It was also ruled that the Karnataka High Court was wrong in holding that floor test was neither compulsory nor obligatory nor a pre requisite to sending the report to the President recommending action under article 356(1).[4]

d) The governor of a state before giving a report to the President in order to invoke article 356(1) shall always look for an alternative Ministry, if the present Ministry has lost the support in the House or fails to prove majority in the floor test.

e) The court cannot question the advice given to the President as per article 74(2) of the Constitution but the material behind imposition of emergency in the state can be questioned in the court of law in order to check if the material was relevant and bona fide.

In words of Justice Jeevan Reddy, “When called upon, the Union Government has to produce the material on the basis of which action was taken. It cannot refuse to do so, if it seeks to defend the action. The court will not go into the correctness of the material or its adequacy. Its enquiry is limited to see whether the material was relevant to the action taken. Even if some material was irrelevant, the court will not interfere so long as there was some material which was relevant to the action taken.”

f) Whenever the constitutionality of the proclamation is to be checked under article 356(1), it is the duty of the Central Government to prove that it was constitutional and there was the existence of relevant material.

g) If article 356(1) is invoked in any state, before the dissolution of the state assembly, the proclamation has to be passed by both the houses of the Parliament and until then the state assembly will be kept suspended. If the President dissolves the state assembly before the proclamation is passed by both the houses of the Parliament, the dissolution will be invalid per se.

h) The proclamation after being passed by both the Houses, ceases to exist at the expiration of six months or can be revoked earlier also and after that neither the dismissed government nor the dissolved legislature can be revived.[5]

i) In case the proclamation is passed by both the houses of the Parliament but is declared invalid by the court, then, the dissolved state government will be restored along with the dissolved legislature of that state.

2. Were the laws interpreted by the Supreme Court correctly?

Ans. The Doctrine of Division of Powers between the Union and the State was from starting in the mind of our Constitution makers. It can be seen through the presence of different lists in the Schedule VII of our Constitution i.e. Union List, State List and Concurrent List and article 246. According to this, only the federal state has the power to constitute laws on the matters mentioned in the state list and only the centre or the union can frame laws on the matters mentioned in the union list and both the centre and the state can make laws on the matters stated in the concurrent list. Apart from this, the concept of federalism can be seen through the presence of the Chief Minister along with his Council of Ministers and Governor same as at the Union level where we have a Prime Minister along with his Council of Ministers and President. In simple words, the model of the government adopted for the centre was also adopted for the federal state without the interference from the government at the centre with separate elections.

Thus, the Supreme Court in the following case had interpreted the laws in the correct manner and did not let the power be concentrated only at the centre or union.

3. Had there been any commission formed which could be related to this case?

Ans. Yes, there had been formation of Sarkaria Commission in 1983 in order to examine the Centre – State relation on various issues and to suggest changes in the framework within the Constitution of India. This commission was headed by Justice Ranjit Singh Sarkaria who was a retired judge of the Supreme Court. This commission had given various recommendations relating to the role and appointment of governors in federal states and use of article 356.

4. Was the reasoning of the court logical?

Ans. Yes, it can clearly be seen that the Supreme Court had given the judgment with proper and logical reasoning. It delivered the best possible judgment in order to avoid the misuse of article 356 by the union in future scenarios as with the help of article 356 the union can concentrate all the powers within itself and it is rightly said ‘Power corrupts and Absolute Power corrupts absolutely’.

5. Were any of the legal issues left unheard by the court?

Ans. Through the judgment, it can be seen that none of the legal issues were left unheard by the Supreme Court and important directions were given in order to curb the unconstitutional use of article 356 of the Constitution.

6. What are the future impacts of the judgment in the following case?

Ans. After the following judgment, the misuse of article 356 by the government at the union has been reduced to the minimum level and in various circumstances the government of a state was saved from being dismissed as they were able to show the majority during the floor test. One of the examples is that the government of state of Uttarakhand was being saved from being dismissed as they were able to prove majority in the floor test conducted in the House.

7. Were there any lacunas due to which this landmark judgment was given?

Ans. Article 74(1) of the Constitution states that the President of India shall only work in accordance with advice given by the Council and Ministers. Apart from this, article 356 of the Constitution reads that if the President is satisfied that a situation has arisen in which the government of a state cannot work as per the provisions of the Constitution, it can dissolve the legislature of that state and state emergency can be imposed there. Thus, it can clearly be made out that whenever the government at the centre would have wanted, it could have dissolved the legislature of any state.

Besides this, article 355 of the Constitution states that it is the duty of the union to protect the federal state from internal disturbances. The term ‘internal disturbance’ is very vague in itself and covers a very wide amplitude of meaning. Thus, this article was also misused by the government at the union.

These were the lacunas to prevent which this landmark judgment was given by the Supreme Court.

8. After this case, what were the situations given by the court in which article      356 can be invoked?

Ans. In the obiter dicta of the following case’s judgment, certain situations were given by the Supreme Court under which article 356 can be invoked which are as follows –

a) If there is a situation where the majority cannot be proved or in other words, a situation of hung assembly.

b) If the party who has the majority in the state does not form the government and the governor cannot find any alternative government (coalition).

c) If the state government discards any constitutional direction given by the government at the centre.

d) If there is any internal disturbance which the state is unable to handle or there is external aggression from any foreign power.

e) If the government of that state wilfully acts against the provisions of the Constitution.

It should be kept in mind that these situations are not exhaustive in nature.

5. Conclusion

As discussed above, this one of the most important judgments given by the Supreme Court which puts an end to the arbitrary dismissal of a State Government by a hostile Central Government.[6]This judgment saved the federal structure of our Indian Constitution and prevented the union from conferring all powers of the state as well as of the union within itself.

Due to this judgment it has become necessary to uphold a floor test before dissolving the legislature of any state or before dismissing the government of any state. Not only this, by declaring ‘Secularism’ as one of the basic structures of our Constitution, it also saved the fundamental rights of the citizens as well as the non – citizens of India. Apart from this, the government of each and every federal state will be under fear that if they don’t act as per the provisions of the Constitution or acted against or did not follow any constitutional order from the centre, their government can be dismissed.

This judgment is always referred whenever there is a dispute regarding proclamation of article 356. This judgment has become one of those judgments which protects not only the citizens and non – citizens but also the Constitution of India.


[1] The Hindu Net Desk, More on who was S.R. Bommai, what is S.R Bommai case and why is it cited often available at :

[2] M.P Jain, Constitutional Law of India 725 (Reprint 7th ed. 2016).

[3] Ibid.

[4] S.R. Bommai v. Union Of India, 1994 S.C.C (3) 1 (India).

[5] Supra 2, pg. no. 726.

[6] Supra 1.

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