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IMPOSITION OF ARTICLE 355 IN THE BURNING STATE OF MANIPUR

BACKGROUND OF THE CURRENT TURMOIL IN THE STATE

It has been a little over a month since the violent catastrophe broke out in Manipur when the high court’s order in Mutum Churamani Meetel v. State of Manipur[1] to grant the status of the scheduled tribe to the Meitei community precipitated turmoil. Around 75 people have lost their lives and thousands have been internally displaced. The arson that took place on May 3 has been termed “the most venomous annihilation ever manifested by the people of Manipur to itself”.[2] The innocent people of the state have been locked in one of the wildest battles along the lines of ethnicity. Manipur today has become a picture of a confusing and failing state with dozens of insurgency groups, rampant corruption, the collapse of governance, zero development and an official unemployment rate at 30 percent of the population.[3]

ARTICLE 355 IMPOSED

Reliable official sources claim that amidst the rising fire crisis and violence and after the solidarity march of tribals, the central government has stepped in and invoked Article 355[4] in Manipur to stabilize the situation and safeguard the lives and property of the populace. Given the scope of Article 355 and the intention of constitution-makers at the time of its formation, the way of application of Article 355 in Manipur has given rise to some mysterious circumstances and invoked fear in the minds of people. Therefore it becomes important to study the scope and implications of Article 355.

WHAT IS ARTICLE 355?

Article 355 is an emergency provision mentioned in part XVIII of the constitution. It imposes a duty upon the Central government to guard the states against any type of aggression and disturbance from external and internal enemies and to ensure that each state carries the government in accordance with the provisions and structure of the constitution. It empowers the Union to issue directions to the state governments to ensure compliance with these provisions. Article 355 as it exists today was not there in the draft constitution of 1948 and was only inserted in 1949 to provide a legitimate ground for imposition of state emergency or president’s rule under article  356[5].

As a consequence of these emergency provisions, the president gets the power to take up the authority vested in the Governor or other executive members. He can declare that the powers and functions of the state legislature are to be exercised by the parliament and can take all other steps which deem fit including the suspending constitutional provisions pertaining to anybody or authority in the state.

Both the upper and the lower house of parliament must approve the proclamation imposing the president’s rule within two months from the date of its issue. It can be applied in cases where the failure of constitutional machinery is evident on two grounds; one on the grounds of a report by the governor of the state showing that the state is unable to function along the lines of the constitution; and second in the form of Article 365[6] which authorises the President to assess the relationship between the state and the centre and if the state is unable to comply with the directions given by the Centre, the President can proclaim an emergency in the state. 

WHY IS IT PROBLEMATIC?

Due to the arbitrary powers of these article of devoiding the state of its governance and citizens of some of their basic fundamental rights like those provided in Article 19[7], these articles have always been viewed with concern by drafters and have been imposed with certain limitations. Dr. B.R. Ambedkar in a constitutional assembly debate discussing the limitation of article 355 clearly explained that “The proper thing we ought to expect is that such articles will never be called into operation and that they would remain a dead letter”.[8]

The emergency provisions should be only and only used in rare and exceptional circumstances and people have the right to seek justification for the same. The 44th amendment act[9] of 1978 made it clear that the decision of the president regarding the imposition of emergency was not beyond the scope of judicial review.

PRECEDENCE SET BY COURT ON ARTICLE 355

In the past, courts have set their precedent upon the constitutionality of legislation based on an examination of the duty imposed on the Union government by Article 355.

In the landmark judgement of S.R. Bommai v Union of India[10], Justice P.B. Sawant said, “Article 355 provides the basis for the actions to be taken under Articles 356 and Article 357. It is not an autonomous authority for interfering with the structure and function of the State Legislature. Therefore, trivial internal disturbances can never defend an invocation of emergency under Article 352 nor can these kinds of disturbances recognize the implementation of the declaration of emergency under Article 356.

In Sarbananda Sonowal v Union of India[11], the legality of the Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunals) Act, 1983[12] was challenged. The act empowered the union to detect as well as deport the illegal migrants residing in Assam. The court held that the act and the guidelines specified under it was ultra-vires as they supersede the constitutional authority ingrained in Article 355 of the constitution. In conclusion, the provisions of Articles 352[13] and 356 should only be employed as the last resort in extreme cases. Article 355 is not simply an emergency provision, it is also an integral component in the broader federal architecture of the Constitution of India.

CONCLUSION

The imposition of Article 355 has always been opposed, be it in the state of Jammu and Kashmir in 2018 or in West Bengal last year. But the way it has been applied and used in Manipur has drawn various concerns in the minds of people.

One of the major suspicions is related to the way in which people have been notified about the imposition of the article in the state. People first came to know about it through a tweet of an elected member of the legislative assembly of the ruling party and then through the declaration of the state police chief. It is very surprising that there has been no official statement to the Public yet. This gives rise to two possibilities; one that the statement made by the officials is just a bluff and second that article 355 has been imposed in Manipur without proper notification by the union i.e. illegally. Given the potential implications for our democracy, it is important to closely follow the developments in this case.[14] The safety of the people of the state should always be at the top of the Centre’s priority. The centre under the garb of its duty to protect law and order, should not be allowed to play politics with innocent citizens and use disproportional force which snatches their dignity and fundamental rights from them.

Author(s) Name: Kanishka

[1] Mutum Churamani Meetel v State of Manipur (2023) SCC OnLine Mani 156

[2] Hoihnu Hauzel, Manipur Crisis: How my state has failed its people repeatedly (India Today, 7 June 2023) <https://www.indiatoday.in/opinion-columns/story/manipur-crisis-how-my-state-has-failed-its-people-repeatedly-opinion-2390066-2023-06-07> accessed 11 June 2023

[3] Jaideep Mazumdar, Manipur- the Story of a Lost State (Swarajyamag, 10 June 2016) <https://swarajyamag.com/magazine/more-than-a-failed-state> accessed 10 June 2023

[4] Constitution of India 1950, art 355

[5] Constitution of India 1950, art 356

[6] Constitution of India 1950, art 365

[7] Constitution of India 1950, art 19

[8] Constituent Assembly Debates 1949, part I

[9] The Constitution (Forty Fourth Amendment) Act 1978

[10] S.R. Bommai v Union of India (1994) AIR 1918

[11] Sarbananda Sonowal v Union of India (2007) 1 SCC 174

[12] Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunals) Act 1983

[13] Constitution of India 1950, art 352

[14] ‘Exploring the Impact of Article 355 on Manipur: A Critical Analysis’ (Juris Edge, 12 May 2023) <https://jurisedge.com/academy/2023/05/12/exploring-the-impact-of-article-355-on-manipur/> accessed 10 June 2023