Case Summary: Rameshwar Prasad & Ors vs. Union of India & Anr.
Equivalent Citation: Writ Petition (C) NO.257 OF 2005
The Bihar Assembly Dissolution Case, also known as Rameshwar Prasad vs. Union of India, is a one-of-a-kind case that largely relates to the subject of Election Law and has opened the way for a more fair and transparent election process in India.
The ‘Legality of the post-election re-alignment was the key topic of discussion in this decision. This issue stemmed from the 2005 Bihar Legislative Assembly Elections, and it was heard before the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India by a five-judge Constitutional Bench led by the then-Hon’ble Chief Justice of India, Shri Y.K. Sabharwal, who paved the way for future elections.
Facts of the Case:
- The Election Commission of India conducted elections in the state of Bihar in 2005, and the results were announced on March 4, 2005. The Bihar Assembly has a total of 243 seats, and to gain power and form a government, a party must obtain 122 seats. The following is a breakdown of the seats won.
- The majority being National Democratic Alliance (NDA) 92 seats and Rashtriya Janta Dal Party (RJD) winning 75 seats.
- As a result, no party, individually or with its respective coalition, could cross the simple majority threshold before the elections, resulting in the imposition of President’s Rule in the state.
- Following the installation of President’s Rule, the top two coalition’s major parties (NDA-BJP & RJD-JDU) engaged in wrongful activities, including those in which the aforementioned parties’ MLAs allegedly promised the LJP MLAs money and political posts in exchange for their support. These MLAs were swayed by religion, caste, and creed, among other factors.
- The then-Governor of Bihar, Shri A.P.J. Abdul Kalam Azad, presented the situation before the then-Hon’ble President of India, which was not noted in the Governor’s first letter but was taken seriously when the second letter to his Majesty arrived. As a result of this, the emergency cabinet met with the Hon’ble President on May 23, 2005, and decided to dissolve the Bihar Legislative Assembly.
- The order of dissolution sparked outrage in the political community, who contended that it couldn’t be disbanded without even a single meeting and Assembly formally meeting once. A Public Interest Litigation was brought in this regard before the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India, challenging the constitutional legitimacy of the President’s order of dissolution, and the judgment was issued on January 24, 2006.
- Is it legal to dissolve the Legislative Assembly without holding its first meeting under Article 174(2)(b) of the Constitution?
- Is the proclamation dissolving the Bihar Assembly on May 23, 2005, illegal and unconstitutional?
- Is it required to instruct status quo ante as of March 7, 2005, or March 4, 2005, if the answer to the above question is, yes?
- What is the scope of the Governor’s immunity under Article 361?
The following is the text of the order dated October 7th:
- In February 2005, Bihar’s General Elections to the Legislative Assembly were held. The names of the elected members were notified by the Election Commission of India on March 4, 2005, under Section 73 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951.
- Because no single party or coalition of parties was able to secure 122 seats in the Assembly, the Governor of Bihar submitted a report to the President of India in March 2005, following which the State was placed under President’s Rule by Notification G.S.R.162(E) dated March 2005, issued in exercise of powers under Article 356 of the Constitution of India.
- All powers assumed by the President of India shall, subject to the President’s supervision, direction, and control, be exercisable likewise by the Governor of the State, according to another Notification G.S.R.163(E) on the same day, 7th March 2005.
- In a speech to the Rajya Sabha on March 21, 2005, when the Bihar Appropriation (Vote on Account) Bill, 2005 was being debated, the home minister stated that the government was not happy to impose President’s Rule in Bihar and that the government would have been happy if elected representatives had formed the government after the election. However, this was not practicable, and as a result, the President’s rule was made.
- It was also said that the government does not want President’s Rule to be extended for an extended period, but it is up to elected officials to take action in this regard. The Lok Sabha adopted the Presidential Proclamation dated March 7, 2005, at its meeting on March 19, 2005, while the Rajya Sabha approved it at the meeting on March 21, 2005.
- Elections have been called in the state of Bihar. The calendar for general elections to the Legislative Assembly of Bihar has been announced, according to a press release released by the Election Commission of India on September 3, 2005. The polling will take place in four phases, beginning on October 18, 2005, and ending on November 19, 2005, with the fourth phase voting.
- Therefore, the decisions were taken in two parts-
The declaration dissolving the Legislative Assembly of the State of Bihar on May 23, 2005, is unlawful.
Despite the unconstitutionality of the impugned Proclamation, the present is not a case where, in the exercise of discretionary jurisdiction, the status quo ante merits to be ordered to restore the Legislative Assembly as it stood on the date of the Proclamation dated March 7, 2005, under which it was kept in suspended animation.
Proclamation under Article 356 is open to judicial review but to a very limited extent. Only when the power is exercised mala fide or is based on wholly extraneous or irrelevant grounds, the power of judicial review can be exercised. Principles of judicial review which are applicable when an administrative action is challenged, cannot be applied stricto sensu.