Emergency powers of Governors that can bring State under Centre’s rule came in for intense discussion in August 1949 in the Constituent Assembly with Dr Rajendra Prasad in chair. Quite a few members weighed the pros and cons of such extraordinary powers, making the father of the Constitution Dr BR Ambedkar to intervene among others. Pulse Research Bureau reproduces here excerpts from Pandit Thakur Das Bhargava’s speech in the Assembly. Bhargava spoke on 4 August 1949. He later became a member of the Lower House of Parliament or the Lok Sabha
Pandit Thakur Das Bhargava (East Punjab : General) : Sir, the provisions of the Constitution relating to emergency powers are really very important and my apology for coming before this House and taking its time is that I feel that the Drafting Committee has to be congratulated in tackling the question in a very able and a very adroit manner. Sir, it is very easy to criticise any proposal which comes from the Drafting Committee. If the Drafting Committee had' kept article 188 intact, I have no doubt that the very Members who have now criticised would have come forward in no less strong language to criticise the keeping intact of 188 also. What we have to see is whether on a balance of advantages and disadvantages the present position is better or not. From this point of view my humble submission is that the retention of 188 would have been a great mistake. I After all this taking away of 188 and substitution thereof by articles 278 and 277-A predicate that the Governor will have no emergency powers, and, instead of the Governor acting in his own discretion, a single individual deciding the fate of the entire State, we have substituted the whole Cabinet and now there is no danger that emergency powers will be resorted to by way of panic or personal animosity with any Cabinet, etc. On the contrary we are quite sure that the President aided and advised by the whole Cabinet, will decide the most difficult of questions.
Secondly, I am very glad that article 277-A is being enacted. This was a great lacuna in the whole Constitution. I cannot understand how the provincial autonomy unrelated to the powers of the Centre can be regarded as an abstract thing by itself. Now we have already provided fundamental rights and we have provided the powers of the Supreme Court. We know that the army and navy are all under the Centre. How can provincial autonomy remain totally unrelated and the State can have absolute rights? Supposing the Constitution fails, how can a State guarantee to the people the exercise and the use of fundamental rights? It would be impossible. It is a contradiction in terms. How can a province by itself be able to meet the situation when the use of army and other forces are required by the State? It is, therefore, but proper that in regard to provincial autonomy also we must realise that the Centre has got a duty to discharge and a very great duty to discharge. My only complaint is that when we enact 277-A, we only enacted a pious wish. I wanted and I put in an amendment that to be more logical we should have also enacted a further provision that for discharge of the duties by 277-A, it was the duty of the Central Government to take such measures as they require to ensure the discharge of the proper functions. In a given situation when there was no breakdown of the Constitution but there was a danger of its breaking down, even then the Centre has a duty to discharge and the Centre should have been given powers to discharge it. It is not enough to say that it is the duty of the Centre to see that the Constitution is worked. Therefore, when there is a duty for the Centre there should be means enough to see that the Centre comes forward and does its duty under a given set of circumstances. Therefore, I wanted to see that the Centre was given powers even when there was no breakdown of the Constitution.
Now I must admit that in regard to 278 and 277-A some criticism has been made. The first criticism that I wish to dispose is about the word 'otherwise'. There was a complaint to start with when the Governors' post was declared to be non-elected and he must be appointed by the, Centre. Then there was a complaint that this was a retrograde measure. Now those who oppose this article say that the report of the Governor is the sole thing which ought to be considered. If the Governor is not independent and is only an agent of the Central Government, what is the use of his report. When you confess that the Governor is an individual person and he does not represent the people of the province, how can you rely on his report? The words 'on report or otherwise' do denote a state of things in which the Governor may not be doing his duties, or may give a wrong report. Suppose there is a conflict between the Governor and the Ministers, and the Ministers and the Houses pass a resolution to the effect that the Centre 'should intervene, and there is conspiracy and the whole State is seething with strife and this state is not reported by the Governor, what would happen? Under these circumstances it is fair that the words 'or otherwise' (this amounts to President’s discretion in the absence of Governor’s report to aver need for President’s rule in the State) should be there. They provide for such contingencies. After all, the Centre or the President has to save the situation and see that, in case of failure of Constitution, conditions do not deteriorate into chaos. If that premise is correct, in whatever manner the President may come to know or the Centre may come to know, it is the duty of the Centre to interfere. Therefore these words 'or otherwise' do not mean, as one of my friends suggested, that report of the C.I.D. would be enough. It is a more serious thing. How could the President or the whole Cabinet act in such an irresponsible and rash manner? I understand the fear of those who think that these words now given in article 278 are too wide. They are too wide. There is no doubt that an irresponsible Cabinet or a President can certainly act rashly. Now what is the failure of machinery is the question of questions. Supposing the constitutional machinery does not work well - it works 2 percent well and 98 percent wrong or it works 98 percent well and 2 percent wrong the question of questions is if there is a deadlock in a very small particular, can it be said that the Constitution is not carried on as it ought to be? But I do not think that any person will contend that on an occasion like this the Centre will take up the responsibility which is a responsibility very hard to discharge. After all, no Central Government would like that there should be conflict between the Centre and the State. Why should we assume that the Cabinet will act rashly or wrongly? I do not know of any provision in which some defect cannot be found. Only when this Constitution is not honestly worked in the right spirit, it is capable of creating mischief. Otherwise there is no provision in any constitution which cannot be abused. Why should we assume that this will be abused? After all, what is the difference? Even if action is taken by the Centre how would the Centre proceed. Does it mean that the whole thing will become topsy-turvy? It is not likely to work that way. Even if the Centre takes into its hands the administration of the province, the State provincial machinery will not go to dogs. The Centre will not send thousands of persons to administer the State and function differently from before. We can imagine what will take place in such a situation. In India there are many provinces which have been working democracy for a very long time. There are many States in which these democratic institutions are being planted today. For centuries they have been under a feudal system. Therefore, my submission is that unless you make provision like this, the Centre will not be doing its duty. It is the duty of the Centre to see that the Constitution is worked rightly and well.
I know the criticism has been expressed that articles 277-A and 278 take away the powers of the State and they will therefore reduce them to subservience. Some critics have in fact, said that provincial autonomy will be a mere farce, and that the proper action which under those circumstances ought to have been undertaken by the Provincial Governor would not be taken by tile Central Government. But this is not the case. These critics seem to have failed to see that no Constitution can be said to have failed to work unless and until all the provisions of the Constitution relating to the State are exhausted. In my humble opinion as soon as such a situation arises, the first duty that the Governor will perform will be to dissolve the House. Unless and until every attempt has been made, and unless he finds that even the ordinary liberties cannot be enjoyed by the people, lie will not come to the conclusion that the Constitution has failed. I cannot conceive of a situation in which the Governor, first of all, shall not exercise the powers given to him by law, to arrange in such a way that the Constitution is worked. When the entire thing has failed, then there is nothing but confusion and chaos. At that time what is the choice? Mr. Nizamuddin Ahmad said that in that case, the Centre takes up the whole administration in its own hands, and so there will be confusion. But I say that it is just to avoid such confusion and chaos that the Centre takes on the administration. Are we to continue that confusion and chaos which have resulted from the failure of the constitutional machinery? Of the two, I am sure everyone will admit the better thing is for the Centre to interfere and take over the administration. (Other members took over from this point)