Governor of Maharashtra vs. Article 361 – What is the scope of Article 361 granting immunity to the Governor?

Article 361 of the Constitution confers immunity to the President and Governors from criminal and civil cases during their term of office, it says no court can issue summons to them in any case. However, Article 361 does not bar filing of an affidavit if one wants to file on his own. The bar is only against the power of the Court to issue notice or making the President or the Governor answerable.

The Honourable Supreme Court of India in the matter of Rameshwar Prasad & Ors . vs. Union of India & Anr. dealt with the question of what is the scope of Article 361 granting immunity to the Governor?

Article 361(1), inter alia, provides that the Governor shall not be answerable to any Court for the exercise and performance of the powers and duties of his office or for any act done or purported to be done by him in the exercise and performance of those powers and duties. Accepting the submissions made on behalf of the respondents that in view of Article 361, notice could not be issued to the Governor, at the same time, further noticing that the immunity granted does not affect the power of this Court to judicial scrutinise attack made on the Proclamation issued under Article 356(1) of the Constitution of India on the ground of malafides or it being ultra vires and that it would be for the Government to satisfy the Court and adequately meet such ground of challenge. A mala fide act is wholly outside the scope of the power and has no existence in the eyes of the law. It was further held that the expression ‘purported to be done’ in Article 361 does not cover acts which are mala fide or ultra vires and thus, the Government supporting the Proclamation under Article 356(1) shall have to meet the challenge. The immunity granted under Article 361 does not mean that in the absence of Governor, the grounds of mala fide or being ultra vires would not be examined by the Court. The order was made at the stage when they had not examined the question whether the exercise of power by the Governor was mala fide or ultra vires or not.

A plain reading of Article 361 shows that there is a complete bar to the impleading and issue of notice to the President or the Governor inasmuch as they are not answerable to any Court for the exercise and performance of their powers and duties. Most of the actions are taken on aid and advice of Council of Ministers. The personal immunity from answerability provided in Article 361 does not bar the challenge that may be made to their actions. Under law, such actions including those actions where the challenge may be based on the allegations of malafides are required to be defended by Union of India or the State, as the case may be. Even in cases where the personal malafides are alleged and established, it would not be open to the Governments to urge that the same cannot be satisfactorily answered because of the immunity granted. In such an eventuality, it is for the respondent defending the action to satisfy the Court either on the basis of the material on record or even filing the affidavit of the person against whom such allegation of personal malafides are made.

Article 361 does not bar filing of an affidavit if one wants to file on his own. The bar is only against the power of the Court to issue notice or making the President or the Governor answerable. In view of the bar, the Court cannot issue direction to President or Governor for even filing of affidavit to assist the Court. Filing of an affidavit on one’s own volition is one thing than issue of direction by the Court to file an affidavit. The personal immunity under Article 361(1) is complete and, therefore, there is no question of the President or the Governor being made answerable to the Court in respect of even charges of malafides. In Union Carbide Corporation etc. vs. Union of India, etc. etc. [(1991) 4 SCC 584], dealing with Article 361(2) of the Constitution, Justice Venkatahalliah referred to the famous case of Richard Nixon [(1982) 457 US 731] about theoretical basis for the need for such immunity. It was said Article 361(2) of the Constitution confers on the President and the Governors immunity even in respect of their personal acts and enjoins that no criminal proceedings shall be instituted against them during their term of office. As to the theoretical basis for the need for such immunity, the Supreme Court of the United States in a case concerning immunity from civil liability (Richard Nixon v. Ernest Fitzgerald, 457 US 731 : 73 Law Ed 2d 349) said:

“…..This Court necessarily also has weighed concerns of public policy, especially as illuminated by our history and the structure of our Government…..”

“…..In the case of the President the inquiries into history and policy though mandated independently by our case, tend to converge. Because the Presidency did not exist through most of the development of common law, any historical analysis must draw its evidence primarily from our constitutional heritage and structure. Historical inquiry thus merges almost at its inception with the kind of “public policy” analysis appropriately undertaken by a federal court. This inquiry involves policies and principles that may be considered implicit in the nature of the President’s office in a system structured to achieve effective Government under, a constitutionally mandated separation of powers.”

“…..In view of the special nature of the President’s constitutional office and functions, we think it appropriate to recognise absolute Presidential immunity from damages liability for acts within the “outer perimeter” of his official responsibility.

Under the Constitution and laws of the United States the President has discretionary responsibilities in a broad variety of areas, many of them highly sensitive. In many cases it would be difficult to determine which of the President’s innumerable “functions” encompassed a particular action…..”

For ease of reference, extract of Article 361 of the Constitution of India, as amended, are reproduced below:

“(1) The President, or the Governor or Rajpramukh of a State, shall not be answerable to any court for the exercise and performance of the powers and duties of his office or for any act done or purporting to be done by him in the exercise and performance of those powers and duties:

Provided that the conduct of the President may be brought under review by any court, tribunal or body appointed or designated by either House of Parliament for the investigation of a charge under article 61:

Provided further that nothing in this clause shall be construed as restricting the right of any person to bring appropriate proceedings against the Government of India or the Government of a State.

(2) No criminal proceedings whatsoever shall be instituted or continued against the President, or the Governor of a State, in any court during his term of office.

(3) No process for the arrest or imprisonment of the President, or the Governor of a State, shall issue from any court during his term of office.

(4) No civil proceedings in which relief is claimed against the President, or the Governor of a State, shall be instituted during his term of office in any court in respect of any act done or purporting to be done by him in his personal capacity, whether before or after he entered upon his office as President, or as Governor of such State, until the expiration of two months next after notice in writing has been delivered to the President or the Governor, as the case may be, or left at his office stating the nature of the proceedings, the cause of action therefor, the name, description and place of residence of the party by whom such proceedings are to be instituted and the relief which he claims.”

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