What is (and why) suspended animation of assemblies

President’s rule in Karnataka; assembly kept in suspended animation

Declares the Hindu today; have you ever wondered why the President, instead of dissolving the assembly, keeps it in suspended animation? I did today, and a bit of googling got me the answer (from another Hindu group publication, the Hindu Business Line — the piece itself is a couple of years old, though) along with a bit of constitutional history (and plenty of links to online resources):

A good place to start is http://indiacode.nic.in where you have a searchable Constitution. For a friendlier interface, however, there is http://www.constitution.org. The relevant Article is 356 on President’s rule in case of failure of constitutional machinery in States.

You may not find `suspended animation’ in the text. Nor does Article 356 speak expressly of dissolution of the Legislative Assembly, notes a Consultation Paper of the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution on http://lawmin.nic.in. Lawmakers have stipulated approval of Parliament for the proclamation of President’s rule.

Only after such approval, it will be open to the President to dissolve a Legislative Assembly, opines the paper. Until then, he can only keep it “in suspended animation”. If the House doesn’t okay the proclamation, “the Legislative Assembly springs back to life”.

The paper cites the views of Justices P.B. Sawant and Jeevan Reddy in the S.R. Bommai case, and also suggests amendment to Article 356. “It should be provided that until both Houses of Parliament approve the proclamation issued under clause (1) of article 356, the Legislative Assembly cannot be dissolved. If necessary it can be kept only under animated suspension.” A variant phrase, that is, though it may find mention in auto reviews too.

For the law-enthusiasts, there’s the Sarkaria Commission Report that had cautioned against a liberal interpretation of article 356 which would “reduce the States to mere dependencies and would cut at the root of the democratic, parliamentary, federal form of government.”

Digging on the research working paper circuit, you’d find a March 2004 thesis by K. Jayasudha Reddy and Joy V. Joseph titled, “Executive discretion and Article 356 of the Constitution of India: a comparative critique.” It traces the origin of Article 356 to the Government of India Act, 1935, where Sections 93 and 45 gave emergency powers to the Governor General and the Governor to exercise near absolute control over the Provinces.

Rewinding by more than half a century, one learns from transcripts of Constituent Assembly debates that it was not without protest that our founding fathers provided such powers in the Constitution. They relented when Dr B.R. Ambedkar assured them: “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. If at all they are brought into operation, I hope the President… will take proper precautions before actually suspending the administration.” In practice, though, suspended animation is no dead letter.

Interestingly, the phrase in question is used in the medical world. For instance, an article on www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov reads: “Suspended animation has been suggested for presently unresuscitable conditions and consists of the rapid induction of preservation (using hypothermia with or without drugs) of viability of the brain, heart, and organism (within 5 minutes of normothermic cardiac arrest no-flow), which increases the time available for transport and resuscitative surgery.” Perhaps, our democracy too needs doses of suspended animation for resuscitation.

Take a look!

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One Response to “What is (and why) suspended animation of assemblies”

  1. Satishkumar Vishnupurikar Says:

    nice to see such article on suspended animation; but I am not clear with the idea yet! what really happens in this situation ,suppose i have a meeting with minister (now in suspended animation) on particular project which is supposed to implement all across state after success of meeting. DO minister have rights to direct a dept. which comes under him/her ?? or head of Dept. is solely responsible for all decisions …..lets say Dept= social justice/women n child/or any other ??

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