The office of the Governor
- The makers of the Constitution of India did not anticipate that the office of the Governor, meant to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution and the law”, would metamorphose into the most controversial constitutional office rendering the constitutional praxis rugged.
- Article 131 of draft Constitution provided for an elected Governor or a Governor appointed by President from a panel of four candidates elected by Legislative Assembly.
- After elaborate deliberations, the Assembly voted for a nomination provision which rules out any role for the Legislative Assembly.
- The Sarkaria Commission recommended that the appointee should be someone from outside the respective State so that he would not have any personal interest to protect.
- The Commission condemned the practice of Governors venturing further into active politics as well as ascending to other offices after the completion of their term.
- However, conflict still arises when Governors turn vocal in public against elected leaders, who respond with equal vehemence, taking the relation to a new low
Politics till the Bommai verdict
- The President’s Rule was imposed in States over a 100 times prior to 1994.
- But after Supreme Court’s judgment in S. R. Bommai case, rampant practices of imposing President’s rule came to an end as the SC declared that the imposition of President’s Rule shall be confined only to the breakdown of constitutional machinery.
The Sarkaria Vision
- The S. R. Bommai judgment passed by SC extensively quoted from the commission on Centre-State Relations constituted by Central Government in 1983.
- The three-member commission headed by R. S. Sarkaria remains till date the bedrock of any inquiry into the relations between the Centre and State.
- The Commission sought to reinfuse the spirit of co-operative federalism in Indian politics.
- It tried to restore dignity to the Raj Bhavan by focusing more on the appointee who shall be an eminent person in some walk of life, someone outside the respective State so that he would not have any personal interest to protect.
- First ARC (1966) in its report on “Centre-State Relationships” had recommended strongly that once the Governor completes his term of five years, he shall not be made eligible for further appointment as Governor.
- The National Commission (2000) also reiterated the view of the Sarkaria Commission regarding the appointment of Governor.
- It said that if the Bill is reserved for consideration of the President, there should be a time-limit, desirably of three months, within which the President should take a decision whether to accord his assent or to direct the Governor to return it to the State Legislature or to seek the advisory opinion of the Supreme Court.
The Punchhi Commission
- The Punchhi Commission on Centre-State relations (2007) was constituted to enquire into Centre-State Relations taking into account the changes since Sarkaria Commission submitted its report in 1988.
- The Commision could not appreciate the practice of Governors being called back when regime changed.
- A constitution bench of the SC in the B. P. Singhal Case (2010) declared that a change in power at the Centre cannot be grounds to recall governor and hence such actions are judicially reviewable.
- While Sarkaria Commission recommended that Governor’s tenure of five years can only be occasionally cut short, Punchhi Commission recommended that Governor shall have fixed tenure so that they wouldn’t hold office under pleasure of the Central government.
- It proposed an amendment to Article 156 so that there would be a procedure to remove the Governor from office.
- Governors shall not be overburdened with the task of running universities by virtue of them being made Chancellors under the State University Acts.
- Complying with the norms and conventions advocated by the Sarkaria & Punchhi commission will go a long way in rediscovering the constitutional equilibrium.
The core of discontent
- SC must be credited for having tackled the issue from the landmark S. R. Bommai (1994) , Rameshwar Prasad (Bihar Assembly Dissolution Case of 2006) and Nabam Rebia (Arunachal Assembly Case of 2016) by which the possibility of gross high handedness is either eliminated or reduced to the time taken for judicial review.
- Arbitrary imposition of President’s Rule and dissolution of Legislative Assembly on partisan grounds are becoming occasional.
- However, conflict arises over issues which are non-critical but have the potential to upset harmonious administrative balance at the state level.
- When Governors turn vocal in public, the local leaders who carry electoral mandate respond with equal vehemence, taking the relation to a new low.
- Unless the practice of Governors making critical appraisals of their own council of ministers in public glare is brought to a halt, the situation in the states where an opposition party is in power would remain unhealthy.
- Recommendation of Sarkaria Commission that the governor appointee shall be a detached outsider and a person of eminence in some walks of life.
- To add to the Sarkaria commission, the paradox of an apolitical President and political Governor needs to be reconciled, sooner than later.