President’s Rule: Judgment Summary

Arunachal Pradesh President’s Rule

On July 13th 2016, a five-judge Bench of the Supreme Court comprising Justices J.S. Khehar, Dipak Misra, M.B. Lokur, P.C. Ghose and  N.V. Ramana unanimously held that the Governor’s powers to summon, dissolve and advance a session is within the scope of judicial review. Justice Khehar wrote the majority  opinion on behalf of Justices P.C. Ghose and N.V. Ramana. Justices Dipak Misra and M.B. Lokur wrote separate concurring opinions.  

In November 2015, a constitutional crisis arose in Arunachal Pradesh when 21 Congress MLAs rebelled against Chief Minister Nabam Tuki. On November 19th 2015, 13 members of the Assembly—11 BJP MLAs and 2 Independent MLAs—sent a letter to the Governor to communicate their displeasure with the Speaker and the Government. Furthermore, 21 Congress MLAs also refused to attend party meetings citing mismanagement by the Chief Minister. They alleged that the Chief Minister had grossly misused funds and indulged in wasteful expenditure. 

The Governor acting without the advice of the Chief Minister, advanced the Assembly session from January 14th 2016 to December 16th 2015 and listed the removal of the Speaker on the legislative agenda. On December 15th 2015, the Speaker, Nabam Rebia, preemptively disqualified the rebel MLAs on the grounds of defection before the Assembly could meet. On December 16th, 2015, the resolution to remove Speaker Nabam Rebia was adopted. 

Speaker Rebia challenged this dismissal in the Gauhati High Court. The High Court on January 5th, 2016 stayed the disqualification of Congress MLAs and dismissed the Speaker’s plea. Subsequently, an appeal was filed before the Supreme Court and the matter was listed before a 5-Judge Bench. 

The Court identified two broad issues. First, was the Governor’s decision to advance the Assembly session constitutional? Second, could the Speaker disqualify MLAs while a motion for his removal was pending before the House?

Article 163 of the Constitution requires the Governor of a State to act in consultation with the Council of Ministers in the exercise of his functions. He can act at his discretion only when he is required to. Speaker Rebia argued that even if the Governor has discretion, it should be understood as ‘constitutional’ discretion. Whereas the Deputy Speaker submitted that the Governor’s discretion was absolute and beyond judicial review. The Court confirmed that the Governor does not enjoy broad discretionary powers and is always subject to constitutional standards. 

Article 174 confers the Governor with the power to summon, prorogue or dissolve the legislature of the State. The Court considered whether the Governor must exercise this power at his discretion or in consultation with the Council of Ministers. The Court concluded that the Governor’s discretion did not extend to the powers conferred under Article 174. Hence, he could not summon the House, determine its legislative agenda or address the legislative assembly without consultation.

Next, the Court considered whether the Speaker may disqualify rebel MLAs while a motion to remove him was pending in the House. Article 179(c) of the Constitution provides that a Speaker may be removed from office by a resolution of the Assembly passed ‘by a majority of all the then members.’ Significantly the Constituent Assembly debates reveal that the phrase ‘all the then members’ was preferred to ‘members present and voting’ as it was precise. Hence, the Court concluded that Speaker Rebia’s decision to disqualify rebel MLAs was an attempt to overcome voting by ‘all the then members’ and evade disqualification.

On January 6th 2016, while the matter was being argued before the Court, the Union government dismissed the ruling State government and imposed President’s rule. For the first time in its history, the Court effectively nullified the President’s rule and restored the previous State government with Nabam Tuki as Chief Minister. However, Chief Minister Tuki was soon voted out of power in a floor test and the Court’s decision was reversed through political means.