June 30, 2005
The observations made by the President and the Prime Minister at the Governors’ Conference (June 14-15) on the role and function of the Governor are timely and significant. These should make us think how, over the years, petty politics has played havoc with the institution of Governor.
At the moment, there is no constitutional office which is as insecure as that of a Governor. He can be transferred, removed or made to resign at the sweet will of the Union Government. His ‘‘five-year’’ tenure, which he enjoys at the pleasure of the President, has been virtually changed to that of a work-charged employee, if not a daily wager.
It is not only the provision of the Constitution but also the unprincipled politics that has caused the damage. Krishnamachari, in his speech in the Constituent Assembly, made the intention of the framers of the Constitution quite clear: ‘‘I would at once disclaim all ideas that we in this House want the future Governor who is to be nominated by the President to be in any sense an agent of the Central Government. I would like that point to be made clear, because such an idea finds no place in the scheme of Governor we envisage for the future.’’
If the Governor had been allowed to function as was intended, he could have made a positive contribution both in normal times and in times of crises. Unfortunately, idealism of the framers of the Constitution and their own high conduct in politics led them to wrong expectations. They could hardly think their successors would be guided not by the norms of constitutional morality but by narrow party ends.
The Sarkaria Commission (1983) had listed three facets of the Governor’s role: (i) as the constitutional head of the State operating normally under a system of parliamentary democracy; (ii) as a vital link between the Union Government and the State Government; (iii) as an agent of the Union Government in a few specific areas during normal times and in a number of areas during abnormal situations. Prior to the Sarkaria Commission, the Study Team (1967) constituted by the Administrative Reforms Commission, had observed: ‘‘The office of the Governor is not meant to be an ornamental sinecure. The Governor’s character, calibre and experience must be of an order that enable him to discharge with skill and detachment his dual responsibility towards the Union and the State of which he is the constitutional head…’’
Unfortunately, what was envisaged by the makers of the Constitution and elaborated subsequently by the independent Commission and Study Team has been negated by the mechanism of appointment of unsuitable persons and summary removal on extraneous considerations. The opponents of Indira Gandi berated her for misusing the office of Governor. But when the Janata Party came to power in 1977, it did no better. Appointments were made on partisan considerations or as rewards. Suitability of the appointee was hardly taken into account.
The Government of V P Singh, which came to power at the end of 1989, outdid all previous governments. It changed the Governors en masse. It made a mockery of the ‘‘five-year’’ term stipulated in the Constitution. The very fact that the ‘‘pleasure of the President’’ was withdrawn in almost all the cases simultaneously showed that it was done on political considerations and not considerations of individual merit. The decision virtually changed the position of the Governor from an independent constitutional entity to that of an employee of the Central Government who could be removed even without a show-cause notice — a right which even the pettiest of the officials enjoy.
With assumption of power at the Centre in 1998, the NDA Government secured resignations of a number of Governor — Krishna Pal Singh of Gujarat, Romesh Bhandari of Uttar Pradesh, T R Satish Chandra of Goa, A P Mukherjee of Mizoram and also Lt Governor of Delhi Tajinder Khanna. The simultaneous dismissal of the four Governors of the States of UP, Gujarat, Goa and Haryana by the UPA Government on July 2, 2004, dealt another grievous blow to the dignity, prestige and public esteem of the office of the Governor, notwithstanding the justification advanced for the action. The issue once again showed that the constitutional morality and maturity were as much important as the constitutional provisions. In the absence of the former, the country has been moving fast towards a norm-less democracy and soul-less governance.
Conventions are an important adjunct of the Constitution. Unfortunately, due largely to pulling of strings by the Union Governments and party bosses, healthy conventions with regard to functioning of the Governor have not developed. Different Governors have taken, rather been made to take, different decisions even when circumstances were similar. Likewise, in regard to the method of assessing the claims and counter-claims, different approaches were adopted. Some had followed the list system, some had relied on the physical verification system, and some had combined the list and physical verification.
Quite a few constitutional pundits have been laying stress upon the principle of determining the majority support of the claimant on the floor of the Assembly. But they do not take into account either the administrative and security environment of the time or the partisan conduct of the Speaker. Experience has shown that Speakers after Speakers have acted in a manner that has destroyed the sanctity of the floor test.
The situation calls for immediate remedial measures. First and foremost is the need to improve the political climate and to inject a sense of morality and maturity in it. The institutions have, after all, to be run by individuals. If they are deficient in ethical behaviour, the intended role of the institution or the provisions of the Constitution cannot be realised. Only persons of character can be true to the underlying inspiration of the Constitution.
The Governor’s office should also be made more secure. He should be given a fixed term of five years. Some of the constitutional experts had foreseen the need to do so. Speaking in the Constituent Assembly, Prof. K T Shah had dwelt upon the significance of making the Governor irremovable for five years. Prof. Shiban Lal Saxena had criticised the absence of safeguards: ‘‘When once a Governor has been appointed, I do not see why he should not continue in office for five years and why you should make him removable by the President… Such a Governor will have no independence and the Centre might try to do some mischief.’’
And this is exactly what has happened. Clearly, there is a pressing need to amend the Constitution and provide that the Governor will be removable from office in the same manner as a Judge of the Supreme Court. If, on account of grave misconduct, he has to be removed forthwith, he should be sent on compulsory leave. He could return to his assignment if and when the enquiry absolves him of the charge. It is now for the President and the Prime Minister to take initiatives to bring about the proposed amendment. Only then, dignity and purposefulness of the office of Governor can be restored.
The writer is former Governor of Jammu and Kashmir and former Union Minister
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