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The Governor: not a mere lapdog

Or at least not intended as such - An exploration of Article 167 of the Constitution

The contentious nature of the relationship between Governors and Chief Ministers, especially in state’s ruled by the opposition is not news. The nature of the relationship between the West Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankar and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee would be a new chapter in Indian polity itself. The dysfunction is so surreal that the Chief Minister has blocked the Governor on Twitter.

The Governor is quite active on twitter and regularly posts the latest updates on the dysfunction between them. One such tweet was a sarcastic one on him being blocked, alleging that the CM had blocked information that should be disclosed to him under Article 167.

Article 167 is a rather unique article in that it provides an opportunity to explore the role of the Governor as originally intended. The text states the following:

Duties of Chief Minister as respects the furnishing of information to Governor, etc.
It shall be the duty of the Chief Minister of each State
(a) to communicate to the Governor of the State all decisions of the council of Ministers relating to the administration of the affairs of the State and proposals for legislation;
(b) to furnish such information relating to the administration of the affairs of the State and proposals for legislation as the Governor may call for; and
(c) if the Governor so requires, to submit for the consideration of the Council of Ministers any matter on which a decision has been taken by a Minister but which has not been considered by the Council

It raised quite the controversy in the Constitutional Assembly, as it was one of the Articles that emphasised the superior constitutional role of the Governor over the Chief Minister. It led to a spirited defence by the Chairman of the Drafting Committee, B.R. Ambedkar.

Many members, prominently H.V. Kamath opposed the Article stating that it would provide unnecessary oversight to the nominee of the Central Government. However, K.M. Munishi and B.R. Ambedkar pushed back against this premise, and argued that the Governor’s power under the Article is necessary and would not impede the administration of the state by the elected government.

The phrasing of Article 167 is similar to Article 78 of the Constitution, which casts similar duties on the Prime Minister to keep the President apprised of the decisions of the Council of Ministers and the Government. The crucial difference between the President and Governor is that the President is indirectly elected while the Governor is appointed by the Central Government. The Governor has much more discretionary power than the President, and his role in politics has been more suspect as the history of Indian Politics has shown.

This was a major point of contention in the Constituent Assembly as well. However, ultimately the assembly passed the Article without any modifications. The powers under the Article have ultimately not caused the sort of harm. In fact, the Sarkaria Commission in its report has observed that the powers under Article 167 are of a persuasive nature and not dictatorial.

Article 167 is an enabling provision for the Governor to discharge his duty: to ensure the collective responsibility of the cabinet towards the State. Which is clear as day from the phrasing of Article which casts a duty to inform and not more. Clause (3) of Article 167 which allows the Governor to place before the entire cabinet a decision taken by a minister indicates the same. The Governor is to be merely apprised of the entire business of the State carried out in his name as he sees fit; he has no discretion to interfere in it through this provision. Whatever discretion that the Governor has in the administrative matters lie elsewhere in the Constitution - Article 161, 163, 356 and so on.

The role of the Governor has been characterised by many as a mere lapdog of the Central Government. This is especially so in the states governed by those who are not in the good books of the Centre. Practical reality may dictate that the Governor may be running routine interference on behalf of their political masters, but it does not take away from the fact the post bears heavy constitutional responsibilities. It may seem as an unnecessary burden and luxury to have the Governor as a separate executive head, but his role in our democratic republic assumes great significance, especially in moments of crisis.

Blocking the disclosure of information under Article 167 is in any case, a violation of the Constitutional duties of the Chief Minister. Whether this allegation by the Governor is true or not is one matter, and whether or not the Constitutional machinery has failed in the state is yet another.

(Arguably, it has, many times over. Arguably.)


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