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Indian Express Editorial Analysis

22-February-2024

1. A CONSTITUTIONAL CRISIS

Topic: GS2 – Polity – Executive –  Functions and Responsibilities This topic is relevant for both Prelims and Mains in the context of knowing facts about constitutional roles and powers of the governor.
Context:
  • The inaugural session of the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly witnessed a significant event wherein Governor R N Ravi refrained from reading the state government’s prepared text, leading to a recurring conflict within the executive branch.
  • This action, coupled with other instances of governor’s interference, points towards a deepening constitutional crisis, especially regarding the role and relevance of the governor in contemporary democratic setups.
Conflict within the Executive Branch:
  • Governor R N Ravi’s refusal to read the text prepared by the Tamil Nadu government underscores a fundamental conflict within the executive branch.
  • This act not only highlights a lack of agreement but also signifies a breakdown in the relationship between the governor and the state government, ultimately contributing to constitutional instability.
Increased Interference of Governors:
  • Across non-BJP ruled states like Kerala, Telangana, Punjab, Delhi, and West Bengal, there has been a noticeable rise in governor interference, leading to constitutional friction that hampers effective governance.
  • Instances such as the withholding of bills and the absence of customary Governor’s Addresses further accentuate this trend.
Governor’s Alleged Overreach:
  • Governor R N Ravi’s actions, including the withholding of bills and objections to the content of the Governor’s Address, suggest an overreach of governor’s powers beyond constitutional bounds.
  • The governor’s attempts to undermine the state government’s authority without substantiated reasons raise questions about the utility of the governorship in modern democratic frameworks.
Constitutional Crisis and Federal Structure:
  • The recurring conflicts and constitutional crises, exacerbated by governor’s interventions, call for a reassessment of the governor’s role within the constitutional architecture.
  • The Supreme Court’s stance on the governor’s limited discretionary powers underscores the need for a review of the governorship’s relevance, especially concerning its impact on the federal fabric of the country.
Reevaluation of the Governorship:
  • The persistent challenges posed by governor’s actions raise doubts about the necessity of the governorship as an institution.
  • With functional executive heads like chief ministers and collective ministerial responsibility, the role of governors appears increasingly ceremonial.
  • The current constitutional crisis serves as a wake-up call, prompting a reconsideration of the governorship’s status and potential abolition as an outdated colonial relic.
Conclusion:
  • The recurrent conflicts and constitutional crises stemming from governor’s actions necessitate a critical examination of the governor’s role within the democratic setup, highlighting the urgent need for reforms to preserve the integrity of the federal structure and ensure effective governance.
What are the Constitutional Reforms suggested by Various Committees and Supreme Court?
  The Sarkaria Commission (1988):
  • The governor should be appointed by the President after consultation with the Chief Minister of the concerned state.
  • The governor should be a person of eminence in some field of public life and not belong to the state where he is appointed.
  • The governor should not be removed before the completion of his term except in rare and compelling circumstances.
  • The governor should act as a bridge between the center and the state and not as an agent of the center.
  • The governor should exercise his discretionary powers sparingly and judiciously and not use them to undermine the democratic process.
S.R. Bommai Judgment (1994):
  • The case ended the adversarial Central government’s practice of arbitrarily dismissing State governments.
  • The ruling declared that the Assembly floor is the only place where the majority of the current administration should be tested, not the governor’s personal judgement.
Venkatachaliah Commission (2002):
    • The appointment of Governors should be entrusted to a committee comprising the prime minister, the home minister, the speaker of the Lok Sabha and the chief minister of the concerned state.
    • The governors should be allowed to complete their five-year term, unless they resign or are removed by the President on the ground of proven misbehaviour or incapacity.
    • The central government should consult the Chief Minister before taking any action to remove the governor.
    • The Governor should not interfere in the day-to-day administration of the state. He should act as a friend, philosopher and guide to the state government and use his discretionary powers sparingly.
In Rameshwar Prasad v. Union of India (2006):
    • After finding that the Governor abused power in recommending Presidential rule in Bihar, the Supreme Court said that the motivated and whimsical conduct of the Governor is amenable to judicial review.
    • Yet, the question of whether Governors can claim immunity for extra­-constitutional gestures and utterances was not a matter in issue in Rameshwar Prasad.
Punchhi Commission (2010):
    • The Commission recommended deleting the phrase “during the pleasure of the President” from the Constitution, which implies that a governor can be removed at the will of the central government.
    • Instead, the commission suggested that a governor should be removed only by a resolution of the state legislature, which would ensure more stability and autonomy for the states.
BP Singhal vs Union of India (2010):
    • The Supreme Court held that the President can remove a Governor at any time and without assigning any reason.
    • This is because the Governor holds office “during the pleasure of the President” under Article 156(1) of the Constitution of India. However, the Court also held that the removal cannot be based on arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable grounds.
NCT of Delhi v. Union of India (2018):
    • A Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court emphasised the need to identify the “moral values of the Constitution” based on a notion of “constitutional culture”.
    • It said that “constitutional morality places responsibilities and duties on individuals who occupy constitutional institutions and offices”.
    • Governors should identify whether their actions reflect constitutional morality or not.
Kaushal Kishor v. State of Uttar Pradesh (2023):
    • The Court said that the freedom of expression of public functionaries could not be curtailed other than by way of the “reasonable restrictions”, as permitted by Article 19(2) of the Constitution.
PYQ: Which of the following are the discretionary powers given to the Governor of a State? (2014)   1) Sending a report to the President of India for imposing the President’s rule 2) Appointing the Ministers 3) Reserving certain bills passed by the State Legislature for consideration of the President of India 4) Making the rules to conduct the business of the State Government Select the correct answer using the code given below: (a) 1 and 2 only (b) 1 and 3 only (c) 2, 3 and 4 only (d) 1, 2, 3 and 4 Ans: (b)
Practice Question:  Discuss the constitutional crisis arising from the conflict between governors and state governments in India, with specific reference to recent incidents and their implications for the federal structure. (250 words/15 m)

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