A state of emergency in India refers to a period of governance under an altered constitutional setup that can be proclaimed by the President of India, when he/she perceives grave threats to the nation from internal and external sources or from financial situations of crisis. Under the advice of the cabinet of ministers and using the powers vested in him/her largely by Part XVIII of the Constitution of India, the President can overrule many provisions of the constitution, which guarantee fundamental rights to the citizens of India and acts governing devolution of powers to the states which form the federation. In the history of independent India, there were three periods during which a state of emergency was deemed to have existed.
- Between 26 October 1962 to 10 January 1968 during the India-China war — "the security of India" having been declared "threatened by external aggression".
- Between 3 December 1971 to 21 March 1977 originally proclaimed during the Indo Pakistan war, and later extended along with the third proclamation — "the security of India" having been declared "threatened by external aggression".
- Between 25 June 1975 to 21 March 1977 under controversial circumstances of political instability under Indira Gandhi's prime ministership — "the security of India" having been declared "threatened by internal disturbances".
The phrase Emergency period used loosely, when referring to the political history of India, often refers to the third and the most controversial of the three occasions.
The President can declare three types of emergencies:National emergency
National emergency can be declared on the basis of external aggression or armed rebellion in the whole of India or a part of its territory. Such an emergency was declared in India in 1962 (Indo-China war), 1971 (Indo-Pakistan war), and 1975 (declared by Indira Gandhi). The President can declare such an emergency only on the basis of a written request by the Council of Ministers headed by the Prime Minister. Such a proclamation must be laid before both houses of Parliament, and the state of emergency expires after one month unless approved within that time by both houses sitting and voting separately. However, if the Lok Sabha (the lower house) is not in session when the state of emergency is declared, and the Rajya Sabha approves of the state of emergency, the deadline for the Lok Sabha is extended until thirty days after that house convenes. According to Article 352(6), approval by each house requires a special majority: those in favour of the motion must be two thirds of those present and voting, and amount to a majority of the entire membership of that house. A Parliamentary resolution extends the state of emergency for up to six months, and it can be extended indefinitely by further resolutions in six-monthly increments.
During a national emergency, many Fundamental Rights of Indian citizens can be suspended. The six freedoms under Right to Freedom are automatically suspended. By contrast, the Right to Life and Personal Liberty cannot be suspended according to the original Constitution. In January 1977, during the emergency declared controversially by Indira Gandhi, the government decided to suspend even the Right to Life and Personal Liberty by dispensing with Habeas corpus. Justice Hans Raj Khanna defended the Right to Life and asked: "Life is also mentioned in Article 21 and would Government argument extend to it also?". The Attorney General observed: "Even if life was taken away illegally, courts are helpless".
A national emergency modifies the federal system of government to a unitary one by granting Parliament the power to make laws on the 66 subjects of the State List (which contains subjects on which the state governments can make laws). Also, all state money bills are referred to the Parliament for its approval.
During an emergency, the term of the Lok Sabha can be successively extended by intervals of up to one year, but not beyond six months after the state of emergency has been revoked.
A state emergency is declared on failure of constitutional machinery in a state. Every state in India except two states, Chhattisgarh and Telangana has been under a state of emergency at some point of time or the other. The state of emergency is commonly known as 'President's Rule'.
If the President is satisfied, based on the report of the Governor of the concerned state or from other sources, that the governance in a state cannot be carried out according to the provisions in the Constitution, he may declare an emergency in the state. Such an emergency must be approved by the Parliament within a period of two months.
It is imposed for an initial period of six months and can last for a maximum period of three years with repeated parliamentary approval every six months. The 42nd amendment act of 1976 extended the initial time duration of state emergency from 6 months to 1 year. Subsequently, 44th CAA 1978 restored the 1-year period back to 6 months. Originally, the maximum period of operation of state emergency was 3 years. This 3-year period was divided into 1 year of ordinary period and 2 years of extra ordinary period for which certain conditions are to be fulfilled. Therefore, from now on after every 1 year Parliament needs to approve the same. If the emergency has to be extended for more than three years, it can only be done by a constitutional amendment, as has happened in Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir.
During such an emergency, the President can take over the entire work of the executive, and the Governor administers the state in the name of the President. the Legislative Assembly can be dissolved or may remain in suspended animation. The Parliament makes laws on the 66 subjects of the state list (see National emergency for explanation). All money bills have to be referred to the Parliament for approval. In this occasion ministers of state legislature do not perform actions in state.
If the President is satisfied that there is an economic situation in which the financial stability or credit of India is threatened, he or she can declare financial emergency. Such an emergency must be approved by the Parliament within two months. It has never been declared. Such a situation had arisen but was avoided by putting the gold assets of India as collateral for foreign credit.
In case of a financial emergency, the President can reduce the salaries of all government officials, including judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts. All money bills passed by the State legislatures are submitted to the President for his approval. He can direct the state to observe certain principles (economy measures) relating to financial matters; but fundamental rights cannot be suspended.