It is an unfortunate fact that, on occasions, some Governors have been dismissed on flimsy grounds. The office is really an exalted one and, hence, the incumbent should not, without valid and proven reasons, be thrown out in such inglorious manner.
Some years back, the Governors of UP, Gujarat, Haryana and Odisha were removed by the UPA Government of the Centre ostensibly because they were appointed by the BJP-regime which lost power during the election.
The matter ultimately reached the apex court through a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) and a Constitutional Bench headed by the then Chief Justice, KG Balakrishnan, opined that a Governor should not be ousted without deplorable misconduct on any other gross offence.
Interestingly, the Governor is not only the Head of the relevant province, but also a link between the Centre and the province. So, he has to be fair with the Centre, because he is appointed by the President and, hence, he has to dance to his tune – in other words, the Central Government.
Under Art. 156(1) of the Constitution, the Governor holds office during the pleasure of the President. Of course, under clause (2) of this Article, he may, by writing under his hand and addressed to the President, resign at any time.
But as Art. 156(3) indicates, unless he resigns or is dismissed earlier, he can serve for a term of five years from the date on which he enters upon this office. Thus, the prescribed term of the office of the Governor is, normally, five years.
But, as he holds office during the pleasure of the President, it seems that he can be removed before the expiry of this term. Surely, ‘pleasure’ is a subjective phenomenon and, hence, it can be withdrawn at any time without showing any reason.
However, under the cabinet system such as ours, the President is normally bound to act upon the ministerial advice and, consequently, the provision means, in effect, that the Governor holds office during the pleasure of the prime minister and his cabinet.
It is also true that a Governor can be transferred to another province during or after the five year term. But, he may also be retained in his province for a further period of time. The Administrative Reforms Committee (ARC), however, suggested that the Governor should not be eligible for further appointment after the end of his term.
The Rajamannar Committee also took the similar view. However, the Union Government opined on several occasions, that while the Governor should not be reappointed, no express restriction should be placed thereon.
In fact, the Union Governments of various colours have so long exercised a whimsical discretion in this matter.
Obviously, Art. 156 seems to empower them to
(1) retain a Governor for the full term;
(2) transfer him to another province;
(3) reappoint him in the same place and
(4) finally, dismiss him at any moment.
If this is so, the Governors have no security of service. The frequency and suddeners with which some Governors in the yesteryears have been dismissed or transferred have made their position simply ridiculous and humiliating.
For examples, AP Sharma’s service at Chandigarh ended abruptly without any reasonable ground. Similarly, Prabhudayal Patwari of Tamil Nadu and Raghukul Tilak of Rajasthan were removed in 1980 and 1981 respectively.
But, the most obnoxious event happened in 1987. At that time, the Janata-Government, under VP Singh came to power and its first misdeed was the dismissal of the Governors who were appointed during the previous Congress require.
It suggests that the gubernatorial office is inseparately linked up with the rise and fall off the ruling party at the Centre. To take another example, MS Thomas, the Governor of Nagaland, was dismissed in 1992 without any plansible reason.
So it may be rightly contended that this dismissing authority has been more abused than used in the preceding years. And the removal of four Governors as mentioned in the aforesaid PIL reminds us the deplorable incident of 1987.
Sometimes, however, the Centre had to yield to the pressure exercised by some state governments in this matter. Dharma Vira, the Governor of West Bengal, had earned the wrath of the Left Front cabinet in 1967 without any rhyme or reason. But the Left Front, after coming back to power 1969, urged for his removal.
Of course, the Centre sternly rejected such demand in that situation. But, after some time, it recalled the Governor in order to revive a workable relationship with the state government. It tacitly means the recognition of a right which the local government can never claim to exercise.
Significantly, under Art. 61, the President can be impeached for the ‘violation of the Constitution’. But the procedure is so cumbersome that the provision is likely to remain as a ‘rusted blunderbuss.’
The Vice president can be sacked in terms of Art. 67(b) of Constitution. But it too is a difficult affair, because it requires the consent of both Houses of Parliament. Under Art. 124(4) and 217(b) respectively, the Judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts may be dismissed. But the grounds for and procedure of such dismissal have been mentioned by the Constitution itself.
And the method is so difficult that they are ordinarily irremovable. The Speakers of the Lok Sabha and the state legislatures similarly enjoy some sort of service-security (Art. 94 and Art. 181). But, although the Governor holds an exalted position by being the head of the province (Art. 154), neither the ground nor the method of his removal has been determined by the Constitution.
Unfortunately, the Governor holds office during the pleasure of the President and it means, in realistic politics, that he must woo the Central cabinet for his survival.
Some of the Governors have ingloriously been thrown out by the Union Government as they have failed to dance to the tune of the Central or provincial rulers and some others were unduly removed due to political change at the Centre.
From that point of view, the verdict of the apex court on the aforesaid PIL would surely put an end to this unwanted trend. The bench has said that the Governor can be removed only under ‘compelling reasons’ and what the compelling reasons actually depend upon the facts and situation of a particular case.
We fervently hope that henceforth a political change or the ruler’s whim would be unable to make the Governor a helpless puppet.
Truly, sometimes the Governor has to function in a precarious condition. He, under Art. 159, has to take an oath to ‘preserve, protect and defend the Constitution and the law’ and to ensure the ‘well-being’ of his people.
So, if the cabinet’s advice seems to be unconstitutional or detrimental to public interest, he can rightly reject it. Moreover, he has, under Art. 163(1) and (2), some ‘discretionary powers’ by which he can go against his cabinet.
If the Centre asks him to do so, has earns the wrath of the local leaders. But any defiance of the central order may mean his prompt ouster. But, as the Head of the province, he should have some independence of action.
But, as VK Krishna Iyer, former Judge of the apex court, has opined, the Centre can oust him if ‘it does not like his face or foodhabit.’
In this way, the high office has lost its allow and dignity.
(The writer is a Griffith Scholar and Former Reader, New Alipore College, Kolkata.)