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This article is written by Shivani. A. This article provides a detailed analysis of the case of S.R. Bommai v. Union of India. This is an exhaustive article which covers all the important aspects related to the case ranging from the background of Article 356 of the Constitution to the impact the judgement has made on the present governance system. It also deals with the major contentions and the judgement delivered in the present case.


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. This judgement is considered to be a historic judgement as a bench of nine judges delivered this judgement which serves as a guide for all disputes which arise out of the misuse of Article 356 and in case of tussle between the centre and a state. The judgement of this case was delivered by a constitutional bench consisting of Justices S.R. Pandian, A.M. Ahmadi, J.S. Verma, P.B. Sawant, K. Ramaswamy, S.C. Agarwal, Yogeshwar Dayal and B.P. Jeevan Reddy on 11th March 1994.

S.R. Bommai v. Union of India : case background 

History of Article 356

Before understanding the background of the case S.R. Bommai v. Union of India (1994), we need to understand the history of Article 356. After India attained independence from the British, one of the main questions which was to be determined by the Constituent Assembly was whether India was to follow a federal or a unitary system of government. To answer this question, the members of the Constituent Assembly had two schools of thought The first school of thought believed that India should follow a federal system of government. Some of the members who believed in this school of thought were T.T. Karamchari and K. Santhanam. They believed that the concept of federalism is so deeply imbibed in the Constitution of India that it cannot be changed unless we change the entire Constitution. The second school of thought believed that India should follow a unitary system of government. Some of the members who believed in this school of thought were P.T. Chacko, P.S. Deshmukh, B.M. Gupte and Sitaram S. Jajoo. These members believe that India doesn’t follow a unitary system per se, however, they claim that it is a decentralised unitary state. This is because, both the centre as well as the states have certain powers. However, specified powers are given to states whereas residuary powers are given to the centre. Hence, they feel that India is a unitary state more than a federal state.  However, Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, the chairman of the Drafting Committee clarified the question by stating that India has both a federal as well as a unitary system of government. He claimed that it is wrong to say that the states are subservient to the centre. He clarified that in general circumstances, the federal system of governance will prevail and the unitary system shall prevail exclusively during times of war or emergencies. Dr. Ambedkar also mentioned that the usage of Article 356 should be treated as a dead letter and should only be used in the rarest of the rare cases. However, the succeeding governments which came to power didn’t pay heed to the suggestion given by Dr Ambedkar. This is because Article 356 has been constantly used by the party in power for their own political rivalry, by imposing President’s rule in those states which are under the control of opposition parties. So far, this Article has been imposed as many as 132 times. The present case is also one of the examples in which this Article was imposed arbitrarily by the centre.

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. The scope of judicial analysis is hence confined to an examination of whether the reasons stated by the President for issuing the proclamation of emergency in a state bear any rational nexus to the action undertaken by the President, that is, imposing the President’s rule in the state. The courts may examine whether the satisfaction of the President was malafide for any reason, or was based on any wholly extraneous and irrelevant grounds. In such a situation, the stated satisfaction of the President wouldn’t be a satisfaction within the constitutional sense under Article 356. In the end, however, the Supreme Court dismissed the petition and held that the proclamation of President’s rule in Karnataka was unconstitutional

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. It was finally dismissed by a 3-judge bench of the Karnataka High Court on 6th July 1989. Even though the proclamation was challenged on the grounds of unconstitutionality, it was contended by the central government that the proclamation was valid and was brought into force only after the consent of both houses of the Parliament. The Attorney General who appeared on behalf of the central government also relied upon various Supreme Court judgements to prove his contention. However, after much deliberation and discussion, the judgement of the case was delivered by the Supreme Court after 5 years on 11th March 1994.

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?
  4. Are any proclamations under Article 356 subject to judicial review? If yes, to what extent and what idea of scope will the powers of the court stand in an action to review the President’s statements?
  5. What does the President’s proclamation stating that a situation has arisen where the state’s legislative functions cannot be in cooperation with the Constitution’s provisions hold? 

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“.
  3. The second contention of the petitioners was that the President’s rule was imposed with malafide intention. They believed that this move of the President was based on a political motive for dissolving the state’s legislative assembly and imposing the President’s rule. The petitioners also contended that this act of the centre was also against the tenets of democracy. 
  4. Sorabjee also relied on the reports of the Sarkaria Commission which stated that Article 356 of the Constitution should only be used in order to correct the failures in the constitutional mechanism of the states and shouldn’t be misused for political gains as in the present case. Sorabjee was also of the view that if an emergency was imposed by the President without giving any warning or a chance to prove the majority, it would be unethical and improper. 
  5. It was also argued by him that it can be prima facie ascertained by the facts of the case that the Governor acted out of malice. This is because he had no valid reason to submit the report contending that the government of Karnataka didn’t enjoy the support of the majority and he also advised against floor test.  
  6. The next contention of the petitioners was that the proclamation of emergency issued by the President was not valid as they had no information about the materials produced to the President on the basis of which the proclamation was issued by the President. They contended that the respondents failed to provide any other other reason for declaring the emergency except for the report submitted by the Governor. 
  7. Thus, the petitioners contended that this act of the centre was against Article 74(2). This Article provides that the Central government must share the details related to the imposition of emergency with the state which was not abided by the centre in the present case.

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.
  3. The defendants also contended that the petitioners cannot claim the defendants to provide for any other documents which were considered by the President to issue a proclamation made under Article 356 and that the report made by the Governor is the only document which can be presented to the petitioners in the open forum. 
  4. The respondent further pleaded that the court has no authority to enquire whether the decision taken by the President to issue a proclamation under Article 365 is made on the advice of the council of ministers as this is considered to be against Article 74 of the Constitution.
  5. It was also contended that the report was made by the Governor by looking into and considering all the facts and circumstances which were prevalent in the state and then submitted it to the President. Hence, the report was valid.
  6. The Attorney General contended that the proclamation of emergency which is issued by the President is purely a political decision and cannot be managed as per judicial standards. He cited the case of the State of Rajasthan & Or. Etc. v Union of India (1977) to substantiate his argument.
  7. The defendants also argued that the proclamation was issued by following the conditions mentioned in Article 74(1) of the Constitution and was issued only after consulting with the state cabinet. It was also argued by the defendants that the advice given by the cabinet to the President cannot be inquired by the court. Also, Article 74(2) provides that it is not mandatory to publish the reasons based on which the proclamation was issued. 

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

This case is considered to be significant as it clearly laid the scope and limitations of Article 356 of the Constitution. The court in this case held that the power conferred to the President under this article should only be used under extraordinary circumstances and only when all other options cease to exist in the event of failure of the constitutional machinery of a state. The principles which were laid down by the Supreme Court in this case were consistent with the recommendations of the Sarkaria Commission. In this case, the court also rejected the contention of the defendants that the court cannot inquire about the information on the basis of which the proclamation was declared by the President as per Article 74(2) of the Constitution. A bare perusal of the judgement helps us understand that the court explained that the powers of both the central as well as the state governments are similar to each other and the state governments are not subordinate to the centre. The court thus upheld the principle of federalism and also stated that the peace between the union and the state government can only be ensured by the practice of ‘cooperative federalism’. 

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. The judges, in this case, had to decide the law pertaining to the following questions:
  • The exact meaning of the phrase “a situation has arisen in which the government of the State cannot be carried on in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution” as provided in Article 356 of the Constitution. 
  • The extent up to which the Presidential Proclamation can be subjected to judicial review.
  • Significance of floor test for determining if the ministry enjoyed the confidence of the house. 
  • If both houses of the Parliament must approve in order for the President to exercise his power of dissolving Legislative Assemblies under Article 356 or not. 
After considering the contentions of the petitioners as well as the defendants, the court delivered the following judgement:
  • The court held that even though Article 356 confers special powers on the President, such powers should be utilised by the President with great caution. The court also relied upon the statement made by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar. He believed that this Article should be used only in extraordinary circumstances. The Sarkaria Commission also recommended the same.
  • It said that the proclamation issued by the President must be thoroughly analysed by both houses of the Parliament as per Article 356(3).
  • In case the President issues the proclamation without the approval of both houses then the proclamation would lapse within a period of two months and the state assembly comes into force again.
  • The court also held that the proclamation under Article 356 was also subjected to judicial review by the Supreme Court of India. The High Court or the Supreme Court shall have the right to entertain a writ petition challenging the proclamation if it is satisfied that the writ petition raises the arguable question concerning the legality of the proclamation. If the situation demands, the court may also stop the President from dissolving the Legislative Assembly. 
  • The President‘s power to dismiss a state government was not undivided or absolute. 
  • Though Article 356 does not expressly address the dissolution of the legislature, such powers can be implied from the said Article. Article 174(2) allows the Governor to dissolve the Legislative Assembly and the President, under Article 356(1)(a) can confer the powers of the Governor as well as the state government upon himself.

Impact of the judgement in S.R. Bommai v. Union of India

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. If the High Court or the Supreme Court is satisfied that the proclamation of emergency has been issued in an unfair manner, then, it may consider hearing the writ petition challenging the validity of the proclamation. The court may also postpone the dissolution of the Legislative Assembly if the circumstances demand. Also, If the court feels that the proclamation is unlawful, even if both Houses of Parliament accept it, the court may quash the proclamation and reestablish the Legislative Assembly in the state.


In this case, it was held by the court that secularism is a part of the basic structure of the Constitution. However, one of the major challenges faced by the judges of this case was defining the term “secularism”. Each of the judges had their own interpretation of the term. However, there was consensus among them regarding one aspect related to secularism that freedom of religion is a fundamental right which is available to all citizens and the religion or caste of a person is immaterial and the state should treat all citizens equally. The judges discussed the contention that if such a rule is specified in the Constitution for the state, the same should also be applicable to the political parties as well.  It was contended by all the judges that religion should not be mixed with politics. Also, if any political parties practise any sort of non secular practices, then, it can be considered to be against the Constitution. Also, if a political party seeks to win the elections following any sort of non secular activities, then, they can be made liable for following an unconstitutional course of action.

Floor test

One of the issues that the judges had to deal with in this case was to determine a practical solution to determine whether the Legislative Assembly of the state enjoyed the support of the majority of the house. This is because, in the instant case, the President dissolved the governments of Nagaland and Karnataka only on the basis of the report submitted by the Governor and did not try to investigate whether the governments actually did not enjoy the majority of the house. The Supreme Court, therefore, held that the floor test should be conducted to determine the majority and only after such a test, if it is proved that the government does not enjoy the support of the majority of the house, the government can be dissolved. The judges also discussed the reason for such a test. They contended that the report proposed by the Governor was based on his personal judgement and was not devoid of any sort of personal bias. Hence, they held that a floor test can be considered a viable method to determine the majority of the government. However, the judges also held that the floor test cannot be always abided by. They contended that it can be exempted in certain exceptional situations like situations of widespread violence which renders it impossible to conduct such a test. The judges then observed the facts of the instant case and observed that the floor test was not conducted even in the absence of such exceptional circumstances and thus overturned the dissolution of the governments. 

No dissolution of assembly before Parliamentary approval

One of the main issues discussed by the judges in this case was the dissolution of the state assembly. Article 174(1)(b) of the Constitution states that the Governor can dissolve the Legislative Assembly of a particular state before the expiration of the term of 5 years. However, this dissolution can be done when the Assembly loses the majority and there is no stable government to carry out the administration of the state. In this case, the court held that the state government should be dissolved only after the proclamation of emergency under Article 356 of the Constitution is issued by the President. The court also dealt with the scope of Article 74(2) of the Constitution. It was held by the judges that this article protects the secrecy of deliberation between the President and the Council of Ministers. It was further held by the Supreme Court that the court is not concerned about the discussions that took place between the President and the Council of Ministers. Rather, it is only concerned about the validity of the order. Also, an order or advice given by the Council of Ministers cannot be challenged in the court on the ground that the Act done by the President is not in accordance with the advice rendered by the Council of Ministers.


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)

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.

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.

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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