- Article 256 in The Constitution Of India (Obligation of States and the Union): The executive power of every State shall be so exercised as to ensure compliance with the laws made by Parliament and any existing laws which apply in that State, and the executive power of the Union shall extend to the giving of such directions to a State as may appear to the Government of India to be necessary for that purpose.
Attacks by cow vigilantes must stop, SC tells States
- Dalits and Muslims have reportedly been at the receiving end of violence unleashed by lynch mobs, especially in the four northern States.
- The court exhorted the Centre to uphold its constitutional mandate under Article 256 and direct the States to act against the groups. It said the Centre could not remain silent, leaving everything to the States.
- The court directed the Centre to respond to a submission by senior advocate Indira Jaising, for Mr. Gandhi, that the government cannot wash its hands of its constitutional responsibility under Article 256.
- The Centre should reply to this argument in the spirit of “co-operative federalism.”
- The Centre has maintained that violence by ‘gau rakshaks’ was a ‘State subject’ and it had no role to play, though it condemned all forms of violence.
In his recent judgment in Swaraj Abhiyan v Union of Indiaand Others, indicting the Centre for its inaction and the states which defied the National Food Security Act, 2013, Supreme Court Justice Madan B Lokur, drew attention to Article 256 of the Constitution,
calling it a “forgotten” provision. The learned Justice may indeed be correct, as it is not very often that one comes across this provision in the public discourse.
What does the Article say?
- The first part of the Article says the executive power of every State shall be so exercised as to ensure compliance with the laws made by Parliament and any existing laws which apply in that State.
- The second part explains that the executive power of the Union shall extend to the giving of such directions to a State as may appear to the Government of India to be necessary for that purpose.
- If the first part is complied with voluntarily by the States, it would seem that the second part might be redundant. On the other hand, if the second part indeed serves the purpose at times, it would show that the States are indeed guilty of violating the first part of this Article, resulting in the Union issuing necessary directions to them to comply with the
Parliamentary laws. The Constitution appears to assume that the States may be guilty of either wilful defiance, or negligence of its duties to comply with the Parliamentary laws.
- The Constitution also appears to assume that the Centre could use this provision to issue directions, to preempt the States from non-compliance if it has reasons to believe that they may indeed not comply with the Parliamentary laws. Or, when faced with instances of non-compliance by the States, the Centre can use this provision to persuade them to comply, and if the defiance continues, to warn them of the consequences.
Why it is a forgotten provision?
- As the Centre does not have its own administrative machinery to implement Parliament’s laws in the territory of India, Article 256 has its own rationale. But the fact remains that it has been little used since the Constitution came into force, and the fact that it is little used, also explains why it is forgotten.
What is its history?
- Section 122 of the Government of India Act, 1935 is a predecessor to the present Article 256. The framers of the 1935 Act left it to the constitutional morality of the States to respect the Federal laws. Although Article 256 is silent on the consequences of noncompliance, the drastic sanction is found in Article 365.
- Under this provision, where any State has failed to comply with, or to give effect to, any directions given in the exercise of the executive power of the Union under any of the provisions of this Constitution, it shall be lawful for the President to hold that a situation has arisen in which the government of the State cannot be carried on in accordance with the
provision of the Constitution.
- In his judgment, Justice Lokur does not refer to Article 365, because it is mostly seen as a prelude to imposition of President’s rule in a State under Article 356, after the Centre exhausts all the available remedies under the Constitution to ensure compliance by a State with a Parliamentary law