Role of governor: Today’s Talk on Editorials
Significance: There is considerable controversy over the role of the governor. The governors under the Government of India Act 1935 were by the Raj, of the Raj and for the Raj. Governors in Goa and Manipur have recently been accused of violating conventional principles while forming a new government in these states. The governors became increasingly controversial with allegations of partiality and lack of objectivity in exercise of the discretionary powers. The part played by some Governors, particularly in recommending president’s rule and in reserving State Bills for the consideration of the president, had evoked strong resentment.
Post of governor: The Governor is the head of a state just like the President is the head of the republic. The Governor is the nominal head of a state, while the Chief Minister is the executive head. All executive actions of the state are taken in the name of the Governor. However, in reality he merely gives his consent to the various executive actions. He or she is devoid of taking any major decisions. The real powers in the executive dealings of a state rest with the Chief Minister and the Council of Ministers.
The Governor of a State also enjoys discretionary powers. As for example, the Governor of Assam can exercise the administration of the tribal areas independently of his ministry. Again, the Governor of a State when he is appointed as the administrator of an adjoining Union Territory may exercise his function without the advice of the Council of Ministers.
Issues in the role of governor: The role of the Governor has emerged as one of the key issues in Union-State relations. The Indian political scene was dominated by a single party for a number of years after Independence. The Governor had very little occasion for using his discretionary powers during this time period.
- Discretionary power: After the Fourth General Elections in 1967, in a number of States, the party in power was different from that in the Union. The subsequent decades saw the fragmentation of political parties and emergence of new regional parties. As a consequence, the Governors were called upon to exercise their discretionary powers more frequently. It has been alleged that the Governors have not acted with necessary objectivity in the manner of exercise of their discretion. Eg: Politically motivated discretionary power use for swearing in new government.
- President Rule: Article 356 of the Constitution of India deals with the failure of the Constitutional machinery of India. When the government in a state is not able to function as per the Constitution, the state comes under the direct control of the central government, exercised through the governor. There has been instances where the president rule was arbitrarily invoked by the governor. Supreme Court held in S.R. Bommai vs Union of India that a state government could be dismissed only under extenuating circumstances, and laid down guidelines for such a dismissal.
- Dissolving the Legislative Assembly: Various Governors have adopted different approaches in similar situations in regard to dissolution of the Legislative Assembly. However, where the Chief Minister had lost such support some Governors refused to dissolve the Legislative Assembly on his advice while others in similar situations accepted his advice, and dissolved the Assembly. The Assembly was dissolved in Kerala (1970) and in Punjab (1971) but however, in more or less similar circumstances in Punjab (1967) and Orissa (1971) the Legislative Assembly was not dissolved.
- Reserving Bills for President’s Consideration: Governors have generally gone by the advice of their Council of Ministers in reserving State Bills
passed by the Legislature for the consideration of the President under Article 200 of the Constitution. There have been some instances when Governors reserved State Bills in the exercise of their discretion creating a controversy in some cases.
- Ordinances: The Governor can also promulgate the ordinances to amend or to repeal not only another ordinances but also any law passed by the State Legislature, subject to the limitation prescribed under Article 213(1) (a) and even allow the ordinance to operate retrospectively from a date, when the Legislature was in session. Supreme Court in the Krishna Kumar Singh v. State of Bihar case made a series of pronouncements with potentially huge implications for the future of democratic governance in the country. Supreme Court insisted successive repromulgation of constitution is a fraud on the Constitution.
Suggestions for improvement: A wide spectrum of suggestions in regard to various aspects of the institution and role of the Governor have been placed by the State Governments and other knowledgeable persons. A majority of the State Governments do not find anything wrong with the institution of the Governor. However, a few of them have demanded abolition of the post of the Governor.They have given alternative suggestions with regard to selection, appointment, powers and role of the Governor.
- Selection: Much of the criticism against the Governors could have been avoided if their selection had been made on correct principles to ensure
appointment of right type of persons as Governors. Discarded and disgruntled politicians from the party in power in the Union, who cannot be
accommodated elsewhere, get appointed. Such persons, while in office, tend to function as agents of the Union Government rather than as impartial constitutional functionaries. The number of Governors who have displayed the qualities of ability, integrity, impartiality and statesmanship has been on the declining side. States demand an alternative to this situation. Selection criteria may include a person should be eminent in some walk of life,a person from outside the State and a detached figure and not too intimately connected with the local politics of the State.
- Security of Tenure: As per Article 155 and Article 156 of the Constitution, a Governor of a state is an appointee of the President, and he or she holds office during the pleasure of the President. In 2010, a constitutional bench of the Supreme Court interpreted these provisions and laid down some binding principles – B.P. Singhal v. Union of India. The Sarkaria Commission recommended that Governors must not be removed before completion of their five year tenure, except in rare and compelling circumstances. The Punchhi Commission suggested that the phrase during the pleasure of the President should be deleted from the Constitution, because a Governor should not be removed at the will of the central government.
- Eligibility for further office: as a matter of convention the Governor, on demitting his office, should not be eligible for any other appointment or office of profit under the Union or a State Government except for a second term as Governor, or election as Vice-Preisedent or President of India. Such a convention should also require that after quitting or laying down his office, the Governor shall not return to active partisan
- Amendments to Article 174: It was the duty of the Governor to summon the House and that six months should not intervene between its previous sitting and the next. The Governor is empowered to summon, prorogue and dissolve the Legislative Assembly. However it was not done consistently.The State Governments, answering the has suggested that Article 174 may be amended, so as to make the position explicit.
Conclusion: Governors have to emphasize on identifying priority areas along with activities that can help realise the objectives of Sarv Shrest Bharat. Governors also have to play a mentoring role in overall implementation of developmental schemes in their states. For such a mechanism, there should be a non partisan , objective head of the state at the helm as recommended by Sarkaria and Punchhi Commission.