S.R. Bommai v. Union of India

LANDMARK CASE-S.R. Bommai v. Union of India.

Author:Janvi J Kothari, A Student at Smt.Kamalaben Gambhirchand Shah Law School.


How difficult would it have been for the Supreme Court of India to interpret Article 356 of the Indian Constitution in a way through which the draconian misuse of the said article can be curtailed in an amicable way. The President, as is well-knows, is bound to act as per the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers headed by the Prime Minister by means of Article 74(1) of the constitution; which thereby implies that the misuse of the presidential proclamation was not pre-planned instead strategically planned to rule out the system of governance from the states then ruled by Bhartiya Janta Party. Babri Mosque Demolition further introduced dissenting voices against the central government. Article 356 was their way to curtail these dissenting voices


The case of S.R. Bommai v. Union of India (1994) is a landmark judgement pertaining to Article 356 of the Constitution of India. This is an important case in order to understand the intricacies of the centre-state relationship and the doctrine of the basic structure of the Constitution. It laid down the scope of Article 356 and defined certain restrictions to the use of this Article which in turn helped in resolving certain complex issues related to centre-state relations. It also laid down the principle of federal structure and the roles of the Governor and President. 

Political background of S.R. Bommai v. Union of India 

Sri Ramachandra Hegde who was the leader of the Janata Party was appointed as the Chief Minister of Karnataka on 8th March 1985. There was a merger of the Janata Party and Lok Dal in the same year and the party which was formed subsequently was named Janata Dal. However, there were some allegations made against Sri Ramachandra Hegde regarding arrack bottling contracts and phone tapping issues which tainted his reputation. As a result, he resigned on 10th August 1988 and subsequently, S.R. Bommai became the Chief Minister of Karnataka. There were several disagreements between the two parties on various issues after the merger because of which the Janata Party got separated. Out of the 139 seats which were claimed by the Janata Party, there was a split and Janata Dal, which secured 112 seats along with the support of the speaker, independent candidates and 27 other legislators supported H.D. Devegowda who was the leader of the Janata Party later resigned from the government. Meanwhile, Kalyana Rao Molakeri, one of the legislators of the Janata Dal who defected from the Devegowda led Janata Party sent a letter to the Governor claiming that there was mass dissatisfaction between the Janata Dal, Bharatiya Janata Party and other independent legislators on 17th April 1989. This letter consisted of signatures of 19 legislators out of which 18 signatures were obtained from members of the Janata Dal and 1 signature from the Bharatiya Janata Party. The Governor, after getting clarifications from the Secretary, sent his report to the President stating that because of the resignation of 19 legislators from the Janata Dal, it is now a minority party and that there is no other party who can administer the assembly as per the provisions mentioned in the Constitution. The Governor therefore ordered the dissolution of the state assembly as per Article 174(2)(b) of the Constitution. The Chief Minister, S.R. Bommai, suggested the Governor to call for a joint session to check the strength of the government on the floor of the House, but the Governor neglected this advice and communicated to the President that as Shri Bommai had lost the majority support within the House and as no other party was in a position to form the government, the President had no other option than to invoke his powers conferred under Article 356(1). Consequently, in April 1989, the President announced his decision stating that the Janata Dal government headed by Shri. S.R. Bommai was dissolved and the legality of the same was questioned by Bommai before the Supreme Court by a writ petition on various grounds. The Supreme Court ruled that the decision issued under Article 356(1) was not completely outside the purview of judicial inquiry. The condition precedent for the President to issue a proclamation of emergency under Article 356(1) is that there should be real and genuine satisfaction of the President that there is a complete breakdown in the constitutional machinery of a state and it should be supported by relevant facts and circumstances.

Facts of S.R. Bommai v. Union of India

The Janata Party is the largest party in the Karnataka state Legislature to form the government under the leadership of S.R. Bommai. In September 1988, the Janata party and the Lok Dal merged to form the new Janata Dal. The ministry was expanded by the inclusion of 13 members within two days. Later, K.R. Molakery, who was a legislator of the Janata Dal defected from the party. He produced a letter along with 19 other letters to Governor Pekentanti Venkatasubbaiah. These letters were allegedly signed by legislators who were supporting the ministry and they stated that they were withdrawing their support. As a result, on April 19, the Governor sent a report to the President stating about the defections which were taking place in the party. He also pointed out that because of this reason, the Chief Minister Bommai, did not enjoy the support of the majority in the assembly and as a result, it was inappropriate for the Bommai government to carry out administration as per the Constitution.  Therefore, he suggested that the President should exercise his powers under section 356(1). However, the next day, seven of nineteen legislators whose signatures were present in the letters which the Governor had presented before the President complained that their signatures were obtained in the letters by misrepresentation and confirmed their support to the ministry. The Chief Minister and the Law Minister met with the Governor on the same day and suggested that he summon the assembly and give an opportunity to the party to prove its majority.  With the same effect, he sent a telex message to the President. The Governor, however, again sent another report to the President on the same day, namely, 20th April 1989, stating that the Chief Minister had lost the confidence of the majority of the House and repeated his earlier request to act under Article 356(1). The government of Karnataka was dismissed by the President and on the same day, President’s rule was imposed in the state. The Parliament also accepted the proclamation as per Article 356(3). On 26th April 1989, a complaint was filed by S.R. Bommai to challenge the validity of the proclamation. A writ of Mandamus was also filed by the first petitioner, Shri S.R. Bommai along with three other petitioners who were members of the council of the Chief Minister. This petition was filed under Article 226 of the Constitution in the High Court of Karnataka. This petition was filed as the Petitioners believed that they must have been given a chance to prove their majority through a floor test (It is a confidence motion which is done in the house to make sure if the government in power enjoys the support of the majority of the legislature). However, a panel of three judges of the High Court of Karnataka dismissed the petition. A similar situation was observed in the states of Meghalaya, Nagaland, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh. The President had dissolved the legislative assemblies and had imposed the President’s rule in these states as well. Hence, the Supreme Court heard the petitions filed by all these states together in this case. The President on 11th October 1991, issued a proclamation under Article 356(1) to dissolve the government of Meghalaya. The proclamation stated that, based on the report presented by the Governor, the President was satisfied that the situation had arisen in the state of Meghalaya that the government of the state was not carrying out the administration as per the provisions mentioned in the Constitution and accordingly, the government of Meghalaya was dissolved and President’s rule was imposed.  Based on the report presented by the Governor, the President dismissed the governments of Nagaland on 7th August 1988. The validity of this proclamation was challenged before the division bench of the High Court of Gauhati. However, both the judges had their own different opinions and hence, the matter was referred to a third judge. Before the third judge could hear the case, the Union government transferred the matter to the Supreme Court for hearing. Due to the demolition of the Babri Masjid, there was violence spreading throughout the country. As a result, the organisations Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and Vishva Hindu Parishad were banned by the Union Government under the leadership of P.V. Narasimha Rao. The Union Government also dismissed the governments of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh. The legitimacy of the same was challenged in the High Courts of the respective states. Only the petition filed in the High Court of Madhya Pradesh was allowed but the petitions filed in the High Courts of Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh were withdrawn and appealed to the Supreme Court. Proceedings of the writ filed by S.R. Bommai in the Karnataka High Court began on 27th April 1989 and continued till 30th May 1989. 

Issues raised in S.R. Bommai v. Union of India

  1. Whether the imposition of the President’s rule in the six states was constitutionally valid?
  2. Were there any political and mala-fide intentions behind the actions of the council of ministers and the President?  
  3. Whether the powers of the President under Article 356(1) stand unfettered?

Arguments advanced in S.R. Bommai v. Union of India

Arguments by the Petitioner

  1. The first and major contention of the petitioner was that Bommai was not once given the chance to prove the majority. Bommai and his Law ministers took their concerns to the Governor, who completely discarded their contentions and on the same day, the emergency was declared and the President’s rule was imposed in the state of Karnataka. 
  2. The petitioner‘s lawyer, Soli Sorabjee, claimed that the power granted under Article 356(1) of the Constitution is not unrestricted and there was the judicial requisite that the assembly must not be in a position to function according to the constitutional provisions of the country. The learned counsel also relied upon the views shared by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar during the constitutional debates wherein he said, “These articles are liable to be misused, I may say that I do not altogether deny that there is a possibility of these articles being abused or employed for other political purposes. But the same objection applies to every part of the constitution which gives certain powers to the centre in order to override the decisions of the state and provinces. I hope that the President who is endowed with the duties must take great care and precautions before suspending the administration of the provinces“.

Arguments by the Defendant

  1. The central government, the defendants of this case, were represented by the Attorney General. It was contended by the defendants that the petitioners had no authority to challenge the report which was presented by the Governor to the President via a writ petition in the High Court.
  2. They contended that the Governor is required to act under the aid and advice of the council of ministers of the state and that he has an immunity against legal action under Article 361 of the Constitution.

Decision of the court in S.R. Bommai v. Union of India

A nine-judge bench of the Supreme Court heard all the appeals from the Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Gauhati High Courts and also the writ petitions filed in the Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh High Courts which were transferred to the Supreme Court. All the judges who heard the case gave their own separate views pertaining to the issues. The majority judgement was delivered by Justices Sawant, Kuldip Singh, Jeevan Reddy, Agarwal and Pandian and the minority judgement was delivered by Justices Ahmadi, Verma, Dayal and Ramaswamy. 

 Powers of President under Article 356

Article 356 confers exceptional powers on the President. This power should be utilised sparingly and cautiously. The Sarkaria Commission’s ideas for invoking Article 356 were likewise approved by the court. The Commission advocated notifying the state before activating Article 356(1) under certain instances. It stated that all other options should be first considered to solve the problem and Article 365 should only be used if there is no other option available which can be implemented to solve the problem at hand.  


In conclusion, the case S.R. Bommai v. Union of India is considered a landmark judgement of the constitutional jurisprudence of India. India has a quasi-federal system of government. It is neither federal nor unitary, but a combination of both types of governments. This judgement is important as it deals with the constitutional mechanism of centre-state relations. The judgement serves as a precedent to minimise the arbitrary interference of the centre in the administration undertaken by the state governments. This is because it laid down the guidelines for imposing the President’s rule in states under Article 356 of the Constitution. This judgement put an end to the arbitrary dismissal of state governments by the President. The Supreme Court in this case laid down that the power of the President to issue a proclamation is not absolute and is subject to judicial review. It also laid down guidelines regarding floor test and secularism. It also declared secularism as a part of the basic structure of the Constitution. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1)Who was S.R. Bommai?

The full name of S.R. Bommai was Somappa Rayappa Bommai. He was the 11th Chief minister of Karnataka. He was also the minister of Human Resource Development from 1996-1998. He became the Chief Minister of Karnataka on 13th August 1988 and was dismissed on 21st April 1989 by the then Governor, P. Venkatasubbaiah.

2)What is provided in Article 356 of the Constitution?

Article 356 of the Constitution states about the imposition of the President’s rule in the states. It provides that whenever there is a situation in which any of the states is unable to carry on the administration as per the provisions of the Constitution, the union government can take control of the situation and the President can issue a proclamation to that effect and impose President’s rule in the state thereby dismissed the assembly of the state.

3)What was laid down in the case of S.R. Bommai v. Union of India?

This case put an end to the arbitrary dismissal of state governments by the centre. In this case, it was held that the only way to judge whether the government enjoyed the majority of the house was through floor test. Also, it was held in this case that secularism is a part of the basic structure of the Constitution.

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