//Prez's immunity not unlimited?

Prez's immunity not unlimited?

Dhananjay Mahapatra


NEW DELHI: Does the immunity from legal proceedings that the President enjoys under the Constitution extend to cover his role as visitor of a Central university?

This question has once again come up for debate before the Supreme Court as it issued notice to the President in his capacity as visitor of Banaras Hindu University in a case where his order terminating the services of a professor, Ashok Sonkar, has been challenged.

The Allahabad High Court has already dismissed Sonkar's writ petition. He approached the Supreme Court by filing a Special Leave Petition.

Hearing Sonkar's petition, a Bench comprising Justices A R Lakshamanan and Altamas Kabir realised the importance of the issue as it involved the head of state and sought assistance of solicitor general G E Vahanvati in the process of adjudication.

While the President acts as visitor of reputed universities, the governor is the ex-officio chancellor of all the universities functioning under the state.

Both these constitutional functionaries, by virtue of Article 361 of the Constitution, have been made immune from court proceedings.

Article 361(1) says, "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 exercise and performance of those powers and duties."

Further Article 361(4) says, "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…"

Under Article 361(1) one can debate whether the immunity was restricted to the acts done as President or governor.