The office of Governor of Indian States has come under the scanner multiple times courtesy asking governors to resign when the new government came to power, imposition of President’s Rule in Arunachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand, adverse remarks on office of governor made during the recent Inter State Council meeting. The office of governor becomes controversial in light of the mode of appointment, removal procedure, certain powers such as those under Article 356, 200 etc. There have been several committees and SC rulings detailing the same.
Appointment of Governor of Indian States –
Governor of Indian States is appointed by the centre and holds office during the pleasure of the President. This has led to the accusation that the governor often functions at the behest of centre. However, SC in Hargobind Kaur vs Raghukul clearly states that the governor is not an agent of the centre and is an independent constitutional office. With regards to the appointment, Sarkaria Commission and Punchhi Commission have given the following recommendations:
1. Appoint governor by consulting CoM
2. Politically active persons especially in last 5 years not to be appointed
3. Appoint eminent persons in some walk of life as governor
4. Not to be appointed in home state
5. Not to be from opposite party in a state
6. To be allowed to complete 5 years
These recommendations ensure that the position of governor of Indian states remains neutral.
Removal of Governor of Indian States:
Governor holds office during the pleasure of President. However SC in BP Singhal case has laid down that the governor can not be removed solely on the basis of ideology or if he belongs to a different political party. No explanation is to be given at the time of removal of governor, however, if a PIL is filed then the centre will have to provide a reason. If the reason is arbitrary then the governor will have to be reinstated. Punchhi Commission has also recommended that the pleasure doctrine be replaced by an impeachment process similar to the President mutatis mutandis. Pleasure doctrine has led to the governors often toeing the centre’s line lest they shall be removed. The reforms related to appointment and removal would ensure that the post of governor does not remain solely as the post retirement post for those in good books of the centre. Governor performs a critical role and dignity of the office of governor will be maintained.
Powers of Governor of Indian States:
The controversial ones are Article 356, 200, 163(2)(discretionary power). In SR Bommai case the SC has given guidelines wrt implementation of President rule. These were reiterated by Punchhi commission.
These guidelines regarding governor of Indian states are:
1. If situation envisaged u/a 355 occurs, all alternatives to be tried first. President rule should be the last recourse
2. Application of Article 356 only to rectify a case of failure of constitutional machinery
3. Governor should ask state govt to prove majority on the floor of the house
4. Judicial review is applicable. In case of review by court, three aspects will be analysed
5. Whether any material exists which justified imposition of President Rule
6. Whether the material is relevant
7. Whether there has been any malafide use of power
Punchhi commission suggested that the suggestions of SR Bommai case should become a part of Art 356 vide constitutional amendment. With respect to reservation of bill for President’s consideration by the Governor (Art 200), Sarkaria commission and Punchhi commission suggested that objective guidelines should be formulated and should not be done, as it is done currently, on a case by case basis.
With respect to discretionary powers of Governor of Indian states, Punchhi Commission suggested that arbitrary exercise of discretionary powers in a constitutional government is not desirable. Discretionary powers, it said, should be a choice dictated by reason, tempered by caution and activated in good faith. The SC in its ruling on Arunachal crisis held Discretionary powers to be interpreted very narrowly and in a limited manner. A governor can act in his own discretions if his actions are justified by or under the Constitution, but the governor’s exercise of this discretion would be open to challenge where it can be shown to be perverse, capricious, fallacious, extraneous or for a motivated consideration
The question of abolishing the post of Governor of Indian states was dealt by Sarkaria commission, wherein, the Commission agreed that the manner in which the institution has been used has indeed brought disgrace to the office of governor. However, abolishing is not an answer as the governor has been called the “lynchpin of Federation”. Since we have cooperative federalism and holding together federalism, the role of governor is important. Punchhi commission highlighted that governor has a role to play in context of internal security situation, ensuring that communal harmony is maintained, is required because of Parliamentary democracy at state level as well. In 5th Schedule states, governor has a special role to play to advance the interest of SCs and STs. Thus reforming the office in line with suggestions mentioned above, and not abolishing is the need of the hour.