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Types and Provisions of Emergencies in Indian constitution

Posted by Admin on September 8, 2014 | Comment

There have been occasions in the history of Indian polity wherein the country or any state had to adopt an “altered constitutional setup.” The Indo-China war in the 60s and the Indo-Pakistan war in the 70s saw a state of emergency on a national level. Delhi is the latest example of state emergency where President’s Rule was imposed under Article 356 of the Constitution of India, which contains emergency provisions in case of the failure of constitutional machinery in states.

Types and Provisions of Emergencies in Indian constitution

What are the different types of emergencies that can be imposed in India and under what circumstances?

The Indian Constitution gives President the authority to declare three types of emergencies :  national emergency, state emergency, and financial emergency.

National Emergency

The 21-month period between 1975 and 1977 is considered one of the darkest phases of Indian democracy when a state of emergency was declared across the country. Such a provision of imposing national emergency is guaranteed in the Article 352 of Indian Constitution. National emergency is imposed during “war, external aggression or armed rebellion in the whole of India or a part of its territory.”

The President declares national emergency based on the official request from the Prime Minister and the Council of Ministers. The state of emergency expires after a month unless it’s approved by the Parliament within that stipulated timeframe. According to Article 352(6), the majority of both the houses is needed to approve emergency. The emergency period can be extended indefinitely by passing resolutions every six months.

During a national emergency, several Fundamental Rights are suspended along with the Right to Freedom. However, citizens are allowed to enjoy their Right to Life and Personal Liberty. When national emergency is imposed in the country, a unitary form of governance comes into effect with Parliament wielding the power to establish laws mentioned in the State List. Moreover, the state money bills are referred to the Parliament for its approval. During national emergency, the term of the Lok Sabha can be extended for up to one year.

State Emergency or the President’s Rule

When a state government is deemed unfit to function as per the Constitution and its political machinery collapses, it comes under direct control of the Union government. The power of running the state administration shifts from the Chief Minister to the Governor. He administers the state in the name of the President. Also known as the President’s rule, the purpose of ‘state emergency’ is elaborately documented in the Article 356 of the Constitution

The state emergency comes into effect under different circumstances with one of them being the breakdown of a coalition government. Elections getting postponed or the state legislature failing to elect a leader as Chief Minister could be other viable reasons for the imposition of the President’s rule. During this phase, the Governor has the authority to appoint ex-civil servants or other bureaucrats to assist him in discharging his duties.

Initially, such emergency is imposed for a period of six months and it can be extended for a period of three years provided the Parliament gives its approval for the same. In the past, the state emergency has been imposed for more than three years in states such as Jammu & Kashmir and Punjab. The extension was made possible only after constitutional amendment.

Sometimes, “arbitrary” imposition of President’s rule” by the Union government has received criticism from all quarters. Under Article 356, the purpose of giving wide powers to Union government is to maintain law and order in the country and “preserve the unity and integrity of the nation.” However, that power has often been misused. Imposition of state emergency for 39 times between 1966 and 1977 is a classic example. Be it the Indira Gandhi’s government or the Janata Party government, both used this power to dissolve state governments ruled by opposition parties.

The Supreme Court has reduced the scope for misuse of Article 356 by establishing strict guidelines for imposing state emergency. Since early 2000, the incidents of imposition of President’s rule have dropped substantially. The Sarkaria Commission has opined that Article 356 must be used “very sparingly” and “in extreme cases” wherein there are no other viable alternatives to prevent complete failure of constitutional machinery in the state.

Financial Emergency

The Article 360 of the Indian Constitution has the provision for imposing financial emergency when the President is convinced that the economy is vulnerable and the financial stability of the country is under threat. The Parliament has to approve financial emergency within two months. Such emergency remains enforced till it is revoked by the President.

During financial emergency, the President gives directions to the state to adopt certain economic measures as he may deem necessary and adequate. He can reduce the salaries of all government officials, including judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts. The President has to approve all money bills passed by the State legislatures. Although India has witnessed economic volatility in the past, financial emergency was never imposed. The country had bailed itself out by putting its gold assets as collateral for foreign credit.