Failure Of Constitutional Machinery In States

The Meaning of Breakdown of Constitutional Machinery in India-

India adopted the Canadian model of federation which tilts the balance in favour of the Union. The constitutional provisions empower the Union to give directions to the States in normal times as well, because Article 355 enjoins on the Union the duty to protect States against any external aggression and the internal disturbance.

At the same time Article 365 ensures that if any State fails to comply with or to give effect to the directions given by the Union , it shall be lawful for the President to hold that a situation has arisen in which the Government of the State cannot be carried on in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution.

Therefore under Article 356 of the President on the basic of a report from the Governor of a State if satisfied that the administration of the State cannot be carried on in accordance with constitutional provision may declare break down of constitutional machinery of the State and assume all or any of the functions of the State Government.

n the imposition of emergency under Article 356 on the ground of breakdown of constitutional machinery of the State; the following may take place
i. The President can assume the powers of the State Government or any other executive authority in the State.
ii. Can take all other necessary steps including the suspension of the constitutional provisions relating to anybody or authority in the State.
iii. The President can either suspend or dissolve the State Legislative Assembly. During the State emergency the Parliament passes the State Legislative Bills and the State budget.
However, the President cannot assume to himself the powers vested in the concerned State High Court or suspend the provisions of the Constitution relating to it.


A bare perusal of the title of the Article gives the idea about its invocation i.e. in case of ‘failure of the constitutional machinery in States’. But what actually constitutes this failure is a question of interpretation, as this expression can be given indefinite connotations. But, some situations of the breakdown of the constitutional machinery can be laid down as follows:

1. No party in the Assembly has a majority in the State Legislative Assembly to be able to form government.
2. A government in office loses its majority due to defections and no alternative government can be formed.
3. A government may have majority support in the House, but it may function in a manner subversive of the Constitution.
4. The State Government does not comply with the directions issued by the Central Government under various constitutional provisions.
5. Security of the State may be threatened by a widespread breakdown of law and order in the State.

One of the latest examples of invocation of this Article could be that of Delhi when it was recently placed under the President’s rule from 14 February, 2014 – 11 February, 2015 due to resignation given by Arvind Kejriwal from the post of Chief Minister.


The roots of this Article can be traced back to the Government of India Act, 1935. It was the Section 93 of the Act that provided similar provisions of this Article in respect of Governor of a province. But, as mentioned earlier, the Constitution framers decided to adopt the same principle in the Indian Constitution and give exclusive powers to the Union in cases of emergency in order to maintain the unity and integrity of the country.


This Article gives wide powers to the Central Government to assert powers over a State in case of failure of the constitutional machinery of the State. It has been used a number of times since its inception but an interesting fact, as mentioned earlier, is that most of the times it has been misused by the Central government in order to dissolve the State government ruled by political opponents. The Article was used for the first time in Punjab on 20th June 1951. It has also been used in the State of Patiala and East Punjab States Union (PEPSU) and then during Vimochana Samaran to dismiss the democratically elected Communist State Government of Kerela on 31st July, 1959. In the 1970s and 1980s, it almost became common practise for the Central Government to dismiss State Governments led by opposition parties.

The Indira Gandhi regime and post-emergency Janata Party were noted for this practise. Indira Gandhi’s Government between 1966 and 1977 is known to have imposed President’s rule in 39 times in different States. Finally, in the wake of the increasing strain on Centre-State relations, Sarkaria Commission was set up by the Parliament in the year 1983 under the chairmanship of Justice R. S. Sarkaria with the purpose of examining and reviewing the working of existing arrangements between the Union and the State and to recommend measures to make the relation more efficient and cooperative. The Commission finally submitted its report in the year 1987 with its 247 recommendations of which the main ones are discussed below:

1. The most important recommendation out of all was the rare use of this provision by the Centre. The Commission, while discussing that the term used in the Article ‘failure of constitutional machinery’, is very vague recommended that each and every failure of the constitutional provision in a State should be examined properly before this provision is used. It was suggested to be used ‘sparingly’ as a last measure, when all the other available alternatives have failed to rectify such breakdown of the constitutional machinery in a State.

2. Further, it was recommended that the alternatives available to rectify the constitutional machinery should be done away with only in cases where an immediate inaction will result in disastrous consequences.

3. It was also recommended that for every proclamation made, a report stating the facts and grounds of it should be made compulsory, which would make the judicial review of proclamation possible, thus, acting as a check on the use of these provisions by the Centre with a mala fide intention. However, they were not implemented by the Government at that point of time. Finally, it was the case of S.R. Bommai v. Union of India , where the Apex court of the country expressed similar opinion to that of the Sarkaria Commission and held that Article 356 is an extreme power which is to be sparingly used as a last resort in cases where it is manifest that the constitutional machinery has collapsed. This judgement was a landmark judgement particularly in regard to the Centre-State relation under Article 356, which shall be elaborately discussed under the next topic in this paper.

Aishwarya Says:

I have always been against Glorifying Over Work and therefore, in the year 2021, I have decided to launch this campaign “Balancing Life”and talk about this wrong practice, that we have been following since last few years. I will be talking to and interviewing around 1 lakh people in the coming 2021 and publish their interview regarding their opinion on glamourising Over Work.

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