In the last few weeks, since the 16th Lok Sabha election, there has been some debate around powers of the central government to remove Governors.  News reports suggest that the central government is seeking resignations of Governors appointed by the previous central government.  In this blog, we briefly look at the key constitutional provisions, the law laid down by the Supreme Court, and some recommendations made by different commissions that have examined this issue.

What does the Constitution say?

As per Article 155 and Article 156 of the Constitution, a Governor of a state is an appointee of the President, and he or she holds office “during the pleasure of the President”.  If a Governor continues to enjoy the “pleasure of the President”, he or she can be in office for a term of five years.  

Because the President is bound to act on the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers under Article 74 of the Constitution, in effect it is the central government that appoints and removes the Governors. “Pleasure of the President” merely refers to this will and wish of the central government.

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The Supreme Court’s interpretation

In 2010, a constitutional bench of the Supreme Court interpreted these provisions and laid down some binding principles (B.P. Singhal v. Union of India). In this case, the newly elected central government had removed the Governors of Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Haryana and Goa in July, 2004 after the 14th Lok Sabha election. When these removals were challenged, the Supreme Court held:

  1. The President, in effect the central government, has the power to remove a Governor at any time without giving him or her any reason, and without granting an opportunity to be heard.
  2. However, this power cannot be exercised in an arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable manner.  The power of removing Governors should only be exercised in rare and exceptional circumstances for valid and compelling reasons.
  3. The mere reason that a Governor is at variance with the policies and ideologies of the central government, or that the central government has lost confidence in him or her, is not sufficient to remove a Governor.  Thus, a change in central government cannot be a ground for removal of Governors, or to appoint more favourable persons to this post.
  4. A decision to remove a Governor can be challenged in a court of law.  In such cases, first the petitioner will have to make a prima facie case of arbitrariness or bad faith on part of the central government.  If a prima facie case is established, the court can require the central government to produce the materials on the basis of which the decision was made in order to verify the presence of compelling reasons.

In summary, this means that the central government enjoys the power to remove Governors of the different states, as long as it does not act arbitrarily, without reason, or in bad faith.

Recommendations of various commissions

Three important commissions have examined this issue.

The Sarkaria Commission (1988) recommended that Governors must not be removed before completion of their five year tenure, except in rare and compelling circumstances.  This was meant to provide Governors with a measure of security of tenure, so that they could carry out their duties without fear or favour.  If such rare and compelling circumstances did exist, the Commission said that the procedure of removal must allow the Governors an opportunity to explain their conduct, and the central government must give fair consideration to such explanation.  It was further recommended that Governors should be informed of the grounds of their removal.

The Venkatachaliah Commission (2002) similarly recommended that ordinarily Governors should be allowed to complete their five year term.  If they have to be removed before completion of their term, the central government should do so only after consultation with the Chief Minister.

The Punchhi Commission (2010) suggested that the phrase “during the pleasure of the President” should be deleted from the Constitution, because a Governor should not be removed at the will of the central government; instead he or she should be removed only by a resolution of the state legislature.

The above recommendations however were never made into law by Parliament.  Therefore, they are not binding on the central government.