Journal Articles

The State of Emergency in India: Böckenförde’s Model in a Sub-National Context

Shylashri Shankar

German Law Review

May 7, 2008

The Constitution of India envisages three types of emergencies: A national emergency; a state emergency (in the federal setup, regions are called states in India, and the central government has the power to impose an emergency if there is a breakdown of law and order in that state); and a financial emergency. The problem the State faces is how it can respond effectively to exceptional situations without casting its adherence to the rule of law into question.” Ernst-Wolfgang Böckenförde offers a set of solutions within a model structure anchored in constitutional laws. The model structure, which applies at the federal level, advocates a separation between the authorizing agency—the political wing—and the implementation agency, as well as creating a distinction between a “law” and a “measure,” and between a most extreme and a merely difficult situation. By focusing on the actions of the higher judiciary in India, this Article tests whether the safeguards in Böckenförde’s model structure function at the sub-national state level in a very different geography and context. The results highlight the concern that the dynamics of democracy and the reality of how political power is garnered in a federal Westminster style framework effectively stymie the procedural innovations introduced by Böckenförde’s model by creating conditions, not for fair play, but for subverting the spirit of the law. Even the procedures outlined by Böckenförde—such as an emphasis on making the agent who holds the emergency powers a political, and not merely an administrative organization—accentuates, rather than mitigates, this problem.

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