Art 356 and Pranab

As the central rule in Arunachal Pradesh triggered a fresh debate on Article 356, President Pranab Mukherjee feels that procedural changes over the years have “somewhat reduced possibility” of misuse of the provision.

Delving on the issue in the second volume of his autobiography ‘Turbulent Years: 1980-1996’, he says there have been times when this provision has been severely criticised due to an alleged misuse of authority by the party in power at the centre.

“The softening of the powers to declare President’s rule notwithstanding, critics continued to suggest a unitary bias in our federal structure. As evidence, they point to the fact that even in subjects under the State List, the Governor may hold back his assent on a bill passed by the state legislature and reserve it for the assent of the President. A counter argument to this that it is the centre which has a nationwide vision and the capacity to consider the interest of the country as a whole. The debate will continue,” he says.

His remarks come as the President’s Rule in Arunachal Pradesh has come under the scanner of the Supreme Court which has sought the report of Governor Jyoti Prasad Rajkhowa recommending central rule in the state.

“The fact that in the first fifty years of our republic, till March 2001, President’s rule was proclaimed on 108 occasions in different states, seems to lend some weight to this charge. Though the imposition of President’s rule under Article 356 can be liable to misuse, procedural changes over the years have somewhat reduced that possibility,” he writes. Of the 50 years he referred to, Congress was in power for about 42 years.

He said earlier, President’s rule in a state could continue for three years, subject to parliamentary approval at six-month intervals. However, after the 44th Amendment to the Constitution, President’s rule can be imposed for only one year now, subject to the approval of both Houses of Parliament within two months of its proclamation.

Mukherjee also referred to the landmark judgement in 1994, in the S R Bommai case in which the Supreme Court pronounced that the state legislative assembly cannot be dissolved till the proclamation is approved by both Houses of Parliament.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on Jan 29, 2016)

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