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Karnataka Assembly & SR Bommai Case: Why This SC Verdict Is Being Quoted

With the floor test in Karnataka Assembly set to take place at 4 pm today, many have been referring to this SC judgement from 1994. Find out why!

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After the state threw up a fractured mandate, the Governor decided to invite the single largest party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, to form the government. The party’s chief ministerial candidate soon took the oath of office, and the Governor gave the party 15 days to prove a majority on the floor of the Assembly.

The Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) post-poll alliance cried foul and took the matter to the Supreme Court. As a result, the apex court directed the Governor to conduct a floor test at 4.30 pm., this afternoon.

What is the SR Bommai Judgement of 1994?

Throughout these events, many talking heads have referred to the Supreme Court’s famous SR Bommai vs Union of India case of 1994. To the uninitiated, SR Bommai was the Chief Minister of the Janata Dal government in Karnataka for seven months, before it was summarily dismissed by the Governor in April 1989 because it had lost its majority. It is the case many jurists refer to in the event of a hung assembly, which is seemingly the case in Karnataka.

In essence, the case was about the limits to the Governor’s powers in dismissing a state government under Article 356 of the Constitution, and not about a fractured mandate following an election.

“We make it clear that what we have said above is confined to a situation where the incumbent chief minister is alleged to have lost the majority support or the confidence of the House. It is not relevant to a situation arising after a general election where the Governor has to invite the leader of the party commanding majority in the House or the single largest party/group to form the Government. We need express no opinion regarding such a situation,” said paragraph 396 of the judgement.

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Its relevance to the current political scenario in Karnataka emerges from the court’s assertion that the only relevant forum to test the majority of the government of the day is on the floor of the house. The opinion of the Governor does not matter.

Supreme Court of India (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
Supreme Court of India (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

“The House is the place where the democracy is in action. It is not for the Governor to determine the said question on his own or on his own verification. This is not a matter within his subjective satisfaction. It is an objective fact capable of being established on the floor of the House,” says Para 391 of the judgement. In the subsequent paragraphs, the judgement says:

“Wherever a doubt arises whether the Council of Ministers has lost the confidence of the House, the only way of testing it is on the floor of the House, except in an extraordinary situation where because of all-pervasive violence, the Governor comes to the conclusion and records the same in his report that for the reasons mentioned by him, a free vote is not possible in the House.”

So, is the Bommai judgement relevant to the Karnataka case?

Not entirely, but it does set the precedent of what should happen in the event of a hung assembly, which is the case in Karnataka. Since the Governor has already gone ahead with allowing the BJP candidate to take oath as chief minister, this is precisely what the Supreme Court mandated yesterday by ordering a floor test.

(Edited by Shruti Singhal)

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