Examining the Role of Governors and their Functions

India is a parliamentary form of government and also a quasi-federal structure combining both the features of unitary and federal forms of government. Center-state relations are an important aspect of the Indian federation, which makes it a cooperative federalism. The vital link in the center-state relation is the governor, the constitutional head of the state appointed by the president of India. The role that these governors play will automatically decide the future of state governments and their robust development.

The basic scheme of our federal constitution vests the governor with some powers and makes him the first citizen of a state. The constitutional post of the governorship is an important post that links both the state and the central government and sees healthy administration of the state. As the apex executive functionary in a state his/, her role prima facie decides the administrative functioning of the state. But what our founding fathers of the constitution had envisaged is not met and the post is being misused for political gains by whichever party comes to power at the center.  Recent trends in Kerala, Telangana, and some other non-BJP ruling governments see a tussle with the governor. The criticisms levelled on governors make them ‘the agents of center’, ‘puppets’ and ‘rubber stamps.

In this article, I would mention the role, powers and functions of a governor and how the constitutional post is being misused and how important the role of a governor plays in the state administration. In addition, I would cite the recommendations by various committee reports and some judicial decisions.

AN OVERVIEW OF THE GOVERNOR

Articles 152 to 162 provide for the position of governor of states under the constitution. Article 153 says that there shall be a governor of a state. He is appointed by the president of India and has the qualifications of being a citizen of India and aged 35 years and so on. He is vested with the executive; judicial and other powers and further all state administration is carried in his name. Governor also has some discretionary power and his role is paramount during the imposition of emergency or president’s rule in the state. His two important roles (as per constitutional provisions) are-

  • The constitutional head of the state.
  • A vital link between the respective governments at the center and state.

Thus, he has the ‘DUAL ROLE’ of being the constitutional head and the representative of the union government, his post is independent and apolitical as per the constitutional provisions.

Governor’s tenure is at the pleasure of the president and he can be removed from office at any time there is no provision regarding the Impeachment of the governor as that of the president. Both the posts are titular and the real power is vested with the executive body, i.e., the council of ministers.

POWERS OF A GOVERNOR

The Governor of a state exercises vast powers in the administration of his state. they are-

  1. Executive powers-[1]
  2. He appoints the chief minister of a state.
  3. He appoints ministers on the advice of the chief ministers.
  4. He allocates the portfolios among the ministers and reshuffles their portfolios.
  5. He removes ministers on the advice of the chief ministers.
  6. He also appoints the vice-chancellors of universities in the state.
  7. He appoints the chairman and members of the-
  8. State Public Service Commission.
  9. State Human Rights Commission.
  10. State Finance Commission.
  11. State Election Commission.
  12. State Information Commission.
  13. Lok Yuktha.
  •  He promulgates ordinances during the recess of the legislature.
  • He appoints the chief secretary and Advocates General of the state government etc.
  1. Legislative Powers[2]– The governor is an integral part of the state legislature.
  2. The governor convenes and prorogues the two houses of the legislature. He dissolves the lower house of the assembly.
  3. He addresses the state legislature in person or via messages.
  4. He nominates 1/6th of the members to the legislative council.
  5. He inaugurates the first session of the State Assembly every year or after the general elections are over.
  6. He accords permission to the bills sent by the state legislature or returns them suggesting alterations or modifications.
  7. He appoints the pro-tem speaker of the state legislative assembly.
  1. Financial powers[3]– the governor accords permission to the members to move the money bills in the assembly. He causes the annual budget to be placed before the state legislature. He maintains the contingency fund of the state. he sees that various financial reports are laid before the state legislative assembly.
  2. Judicial powers[4]– the governor has some judicial powers and functions. He can influence the appointments, postings, and promotions of district judges and other judicial officials. He can grant pardon, reprieve or remission of punishment or suspend, remit or cancel the sentence of a person convicted of any offence against the law. He makes suggestions to the president in matters concerning the appointment of high court judges. He appoints the judicial personnel of the subordinate courts in the state on the recommendations of the high court.
  3. Miscellaneous powers[5]– the governor receives the annual report of the state public service commission and passes it on to the council of ministers for comments. Thereafter he sends the report of CAG and comments to the speaker of the legislative assembly for placing it before the state legislature.
  4. Discretionary powers[6]

The governor exercises these powers without the aid and advice of the state council of ministers. They are as follows: –

  1. Selection of the chief minister, when no party gets the absolute majority.
  2. Dismissal of the Ministry, when it has lost confidence in the legislative assembly.
  3. Seeking legislative and administrative matters from the chief minister
  4. Dissolution of the legislative assembly
  5. Asking the chief minister to place before him the matter on which a decision has been taken by a minister but which has not been considered by the state council of ministers.
  6. Advising the president to impose president’s rule in the state
  7. Refusing to give assent to a bill passed by the legislative assembly and sending it back for its reconsideration, and
  8. Seeking instructions from the president before promulgating ordinances on some matters.
  9. Governor can reserve a bill for the consideration of the president of India.

CONTROVERSIAL ROLE OF GOVERNORS

The role of the governor is paramount in the state’s progress and it is indispensable. But over the years the powers of governors are being misused in one way or the other despite various committee reports and legal decisions. The discretionary powers that the governors use includes-appointing the chief minister, dissolving the state assembly, refusing bills etc. and also these are the cornerstone for the mounting criticisms on the role of governors. The most abused provision related to the governor is Article 356, which declares an emergency in a state by the president on the recommendation of the governor when he feels that the constitutional machinery in the state is in peril. Since independence, the congress government used it 84 times which is the highest number in the imposition of the president’s rule and was imposed often for the political gain by the ruling parties at the center.

The Narendra Modi government since coming into power in 2014 had imposed the president’s rule in four states-Arunachal Pradesh, Jammu &Kashmir, Maharashtra, and Uttarakhand[7]. The imposition of the president’s rule was used as a method to dissolve the state governments which are ruled by parties different from the center-ruling party. In this scenario, governors were used as machines to topple the respective governments. The role of governors was changed from the very ‘aid and advice’ to ‘hit-and-fire’. But one exceptional case is of the the-then governor of Tamil Nādu-Surjit Singh Barnala. When the center advised him to report the imposition of the president’s rule, he refused to submit and became an exceptional figure[8]. T.N. Sheshan who was the dynamic chief election commissioner of India was offered the governor’s post and refused to accept it. Thus, some people stood for the constitutional ethos and threw light on how important the post of governor is.

 The recent controversies in three non-BJP ruling states is a disturbing practice that seems against the vision of our constitution framers. The three state governments are Telangana, Kerala, and Tamil Nādu. The tussle with the governor of Telangana arose when the state’s first lady governor refused to accept the bill on Telangana Universities Common Recruitment Board and TS government accused the governor of being involved in Poach gate scandal[9]. Against the accusations leveled against her, she complained of her phone being tapped by the TRS government. The left-led Kerala government passed an ordinance against its governor Arif Ahmed khan to remove him as the chancellor of the universities in the state. The differences between the government and the governor came when the governor refused some bills that were forwarded by the government. The same governor is in news recently for avoiding speaking before the journalists of two major news channels. The Tamil Nādu government-governor tussle came when the government passed a memorandum by saying that the governor is unfit for the job[10].

Another aspect in which the powers of governors are misused is in dismissing state governments and in appointing chief ministers. The post of governor is non-partisan and should not be influenced by extraneous factors. In 1959 the central government dismissed Namboodiri pad’s government by invoking the president’s rule. Namboodiri pad is the first chief minister of Kerala elected by the communist party in 1957 and later his tenure was cut short by imposing the president’s rule. It was seen as a murder of democracy[11] by many. It was the first time that a communist party government came into power through democratic elections then anywhere in the world and it alarmed Washington DC[12]. Whatever the reasons the government was toppled.  Later, in 1989 the Janata dal government in Karnataka led by chief minister S.R. Bommai saw the same taste and the then governor refused to allow Bommai to prove his majority in the Assembly. Further, the governments respectively, led by NT Ramarao and Wilfred D’Souza in the states of AP and Goa were dismissed by the governors of the respective states[13]. Most recently in 2018, the same scene was on the screen again. In all these circumstances the role of governors is inevitable and they were run in the hands of the central governments as puppets or agents of the center. Situations like these pose a serious threat to center-state relations and also against the scheme of cooperative federalism.

Governments at the center had often removed some governors who did not adhere to their command or behaved subservient to them and thus became a hire-and-fire regime in many instances and led to constitutional impropriety.

The examples can be many but the real reforms that should come in their gubernatorial powers and the way they execute their powers. Various Committee reports and judicial decisions emerged later but they were ignored in most instances.

REFORMS AND THE GOVERNOR

There are various committee reports which provided recommendations on the center-state relations. Rajamannar committee report, Sarkaria commission report, punchhi commission report and other committees formulated recommendations on the role and functions of the governor. They are as follows-

Rajamannar committee report (1971)[14]

The Rajamannar committee was formed in 1969 by the government of Tamil Nādu to have a look at the center-state relations. The final report was submitted by the committee in 1971. The commission recommended omitting the provisions related to the president’s rule (articles 356,357, and 365). Further, it also recommended omitting the provision that the security tenure of the ministry exists at the pleasure of the governor. Though the committee gave recommendations other than the gubernatorial one, the central government ignored the report and the same was not implemented.

Sarkaria commission report (1987)[15]

The demands of the state governments on state autonomy, financial resources and demand for more powers led to the formation of the Sarkaria commission by the then union government which appointed Justice Ranjit Singh Sarkaria as the head of the commission. The committee’s report was submitted on October,27,1987. The government has initiated measures on 179 recommendations out of 247 recommendations of the committee. Some important recommendations are-

  1. De-politicization of the post of the governor. It rejected the views to abolish the post and instead suggested appointing non-political persons as governors.
  2. further, the commission suggested that the governor should not hold any office of profit after his retirement.
  3. Suggested imposing the president’s rule as a last resort on rare occasions.
  4. further, the commission suggested that the leader of the majority party in the state legislative assembly should be appointed as chief minister. And when no party enjoys an absolute majority, then the chief minister should be the person who commands a majority in the assembly and be appointed by the governor.

Punchchi Commission Report (2010)[16]

The central government in 2007 set the commission under the chairmanship of Justice Madan Mohan Punchchi. The final report was submitted on 31 march,2010. It insisted on the importance of ‘cooperative federalism’. Some of Its recommendations are-

  1. Appointment of the governor should be laid on the recommendations of the Sarkaria commission and the person should be out of the state and also a non-politician.
  2. The governor should be given a fixed tenure of five years.
  3. It insisted that the provisions relating to the president’s rule must serve and protect the interests of the state.
  4. Appointment of the chief minister should be on majority lines and it recommended laying down clear guidelines on how to appoint the chief minister during the hung assembly.

JUDICIAL DECISIONS AND THE GOVERNOR

There are many judicial decisions pronounced by courts on center-state relations and some of them throw light on the role of governors and their functions. Some of them are-

  • S.R. Bommai and Ors v. Union of India[17]– It is a landmark case on the president’s rule. The brief facts of the case are, S.R. Bommai was the chief minister of Karnataka and his government (Janata Dal) was dismissed (on 21 April 1989) after the proclamation of the president’s rule under article 356 of the constitution. The then governor P Venkatasubbaiah did not allow the government to have a floor test to prove the majority and thus came the dismissal. S.R. Bommai filed a writ petition in the H.C. of Karnataka and the same was dismissed. Then, he moved to the supreme court and the apex court pronounced a landmark judgement.

Held- It was held that the president’s power of proclaiming the president’s rule under article 356 of the constitution is not absolute and it is a conditioned power. The president’s proclamation is subjected to judicial review.

The case lessened the occurrence of the president’s rule in the states and had a huge impact on the center-state relations.

  • Shamsher Singh and Ors v. State of Punjab[18]– In this case, the governor terminated the services of a subordinate judge, on probation, under Punjab civil services rule 1952. Thus, the question raised here was whether a governor can terminate a judge without the aid and advice of the council of ministers and does he vest this discretionary power.

Held- It was held that the governor must act as per the provisions of the constitution and should not act without the ‘aid and advice’ of the council of ministers as the removal and termination of the subordinate judicial services is an executive action.

  • B.P Singhal v. Union of India[19]– In this case, it was held that the Governor is not the agent or the employee of the Union Government. He does not have the role to implement the policies or the mandates of the government. The apex court rejected the views of the respondents that Governors should be in “sync” with the policies of the Union Government or should subscribe to the ideology of the party in power at the Center. As the Governor is neither the employee nor the agent of the Union Government, the contention is also rejected that a Governor can be removed if the Union Government or party in power loses ‘confidence’ in him. Removal of the governor must be for a valid reason and not for the loss of confidence-Article 156[20].
  • Nabam Rebia v Dy. Speaker, Arunachal Pradesh Legislative Assembly[21]– In this case, the governor summoned the house one-month earlier than the due date and thus leading to the failure of the CM to prove the majority. This led to the dissolving of the assembly and the recommendation of the president’s rule by the governor.

Held- it was held that the governors’ power under Article 174 is subject to the aid and advice of the council of ministers. The court tried to eliminate the arbitrary discretionary powers of the governor. Governor has no authority or power to summon the Assembly without the aid and advice of the cabinet.

CONCLUSION The constitutional post of governor is an important office for the functioning of democracy and also a vital post for the development of a state. The governors must be appointed from outside the politics and must result in the depoliticization of the post of the governor. The governors must not conform to one ideology that the ruling party at the center practiced. The governors must act judiciously and impartially to carry on the legacy of our colossal constitution and the vision of our constitution framers. The government must not subvert the democratic process by using governors as means to achieve the ends of political gain. The central government must strictly implement the recommendations of the Sarkaria Commission and punchhi commission. The post of the governor should not be misused and rather be used for the interests of the people and the welfare of the state. There must be checks and balances on the conduct of the governors and only then cooperative federalism will sustain as envisaged by the punchhi commission. The government must lay guidelines and norms for the proper conduct of the governor and must initiate reforms to reduce the tussle between the government and governors and also to frame the law to stop any misadventures in future.


[1] Prof.Jadi Musalaiah & Dr.K. Mallesham & Dr. Pulapalli Venkataramana & Dr. Gurram Prabhakar Reddy & Dr. Sinjini Bhattacharya, Text Book for Intermediate Second Year Political Science (Civics) 71-73 (1st ed.2020, Telugu Akademi, Hyderabad).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7]  Indo-Asian News Service, Four States have gone under President’s Rule since 2014, INDIA TODAY(Apr 5,2022 15:16 IST),  https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/four-states-have-gone-under-president-s-rule-since-2014-1618317-2019-11-12

[8]KALEESWARAM RAJ, Use and abuse of Governors’ powers, FRONTLINE (May 5, 2022, 06:00 IST), https://frontline.thehindu.com/cover-story/use-and-abuse-of-governors-powers/article38484606.ece.

[9] THE CITIZEN EDITORIAL, Conflict Between Governors and Govts-Kerala, Telangana, Tamil Nādu, THE CITIZEN (10 Nov 2022  10:12 AM), https://www.thecitizen.in/opinion/conflict-between-governors-and-govts-kerala-telangana-tamil-nadu-356478 

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ashok K. Singh, Namboodiripad’s Dismissal: Murder of Democracy (31 July 2021), https://www.livehistoryindia.com/story/eras/namboodiripads-dismissal

[12] Ibid.

[13] Governor’s Role, Controversies and Reforms, JournalsOfIndia, (June 21, 2021), https://journalsofindia.com/governors-role-controversies-and-reforms/

[14] Admin, CENTER-STATE RELATIONSHIP RAJAMANNAR COMMITTEE, A-CUBE IAS, (09 July 2021), https://www.acubeias.com/article/rajamannar-committee

[15] Supra note 1

[16] Ibid.

[17] S.R. Bommai v. Union of India, A.I.R. 1994 S.C. 1918 (India).

[18] Shamsher Singh v. Union of India, A.I.R. 1974 S.C. 831 (India).

[19] B.P. Singhal v. Union of India, A.I.R. 2010 SCC 331 (India).

[20] The Constitution of India.

[21] Nabam Rebia, and Bamang Felix v. Deputy Speaker and Others, A.I.R. 2016 S.C. 1 (India).


Author: BANOTH MAHESH from NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s