Day ahead of SC hearing, Kerala Governor Khan approves 1 Bill, sends 7 for Presidential approval

Hearing a plea by the Punjab government, the Supreme Court had wondered why Governors acted only when states knocked on its doors.

BySouth First Desk

Published Nov 28, 2023 | 10:30 PMUpdated Nov 28, 2023 | 10:30 PM

Day ahead of SC hearing, Kerala Governor Khan approves 1 Bill, sends 7 for Presidential approval

A day ahead of a Supreme Court hearing on the Kerala government’s petition regarding the state Governor sitting on Bills passed by the legislative Assembly, Raj Bhavan swung into action.

Kerala Governor Arif Mohammad Khan on Tuesday, 28 November, approved one of the eight pending Bills passed a while ago by the Assembly, and reserved seven others — including the controversial University Amendment Bill that deprives him of Chancellorship of state universities — for Presidential assent.

On 24 November, a bench comprising Chief Justice DY Chandrachud and justices JB Pardiwala and Manoj Misra heard the plea of the Kerala government accusing the Governor of not granting assent to several Bills cleared by the state Assembly.

While posting the matter for 29 November, the Supreme Court had asked the Kerala Governor’s additional chief secretary to refer to its recent verdict in Punjab’s case, where it held that Governors cannot “thwart the normal course of lawmaking”.

On 6 November, hearing a similar petition by Punjab, the apex court had called for soul-searching by state Governors on the discharge of their functions, and wondered why they acted on matters before them only when state governments knocked its (Supreme Court) door for intervention.

The approved and pending Bills

The Bill approved by the Kerala Governor on Tuesday is: The Public Health Bill that proposes a comprehensive approach to public health beyond disease diagnosis and cure.

Seven Bills reserved for Presidential Assent are:

  1. University Laws Amendment 2021 (1st Amendment for major universities).
  2. University Amendment 2021 (2nd Amendment for minor universities).
  3. Lok Ayukta Bill that makes the executive the appellate authority instead of the Governor.
  4. University Bill 2022 (divesting Governor of Chancellorship).
  5. APJ Abdul Kalam Technical University Bill.
  6. University Search Committee expansion related Bill.
  7. Kerala Co-operative Societies Amendment Bill (Milma).

While the Governor has finally acted ahead of the Supreme Court hearing, the tensions between the state government and Raj Bhavan are far from over.

By sending the Bills for Presidential assent, the Governor has effectively delayed them further, as there is no timeframe in which the President has to return the Bills.

While hearing the matter, the Supreme Court had clearly said the Governor had only three options when a Bill passed by a state legislature comes to him for assent: One, grant consent. Two, withhold consent and send the Bill back “as soon as possible” for reconsideration by the Assembly. And three, refer the Bill to the President.

Also read: Look into our order on Punjab Governor, SC advices Kerala Governor

The Punjab petition

While deciding on the Punjab government’s plea against Governor Banwarilal Purohit, the top court had held that Governors cannot take the liberty to keep Bills pending indefinitely without any action.

The verdict said if the Governor decides to withhold assent to a Bill, then he has to return the Bill to the legislature for reconsideration. Else, send them for Presidential assent.

It also said that the unelected “Head of the State” is entrusted with constitutional powers but that cannot be used to thwart the normal course of lawmaking by state legislatures.

SOUTH FIRST VIEW: Keeping Bills warm no remit of Governors

The Kerala petition

The Kerala petition, the second since 2 November, sought suitable instructions requiring Khan to clear Bills passed by the state legislature on time. It also accused the Governor of purposely delaying decisions on Bills passed by the state legislature with a clear majority.

The state’s chief secretary and law secretary filed the SLP as an appeal against a 2022 Kerala High Court verdict that refused a petition opposing the Governor’s decision to withhold controversial Bills indefinitely.

According to the SLP, the Governor is doing a grave injustice to the people of the state and members of the legislature by postponing the decision on legislation passed with a majority in the Assembly.

According to the petition, the Governor has not taken a decision on the eight crucial Bills passed by the Assembly, which it contended was illegal.

The petitioners in the first lawsuit, filed on 2 November, were Chief Secretary V Venu and CPI (M) MLA TP Ramakrishnan.

The Governor, the Raj Bhavan’s additional chief secretary, and the Union Government are the opposing parties.

Related: SC calls for ‘soul-searching’ by Governors over inaction on Bills

SC observations

While considering a similar appeal from Punjab, the Supreme Court chastised Governors for failing to clear Bills passed by legislatures.

”Governors should refrain from delaying decisions till state governments have petitioned the court, and they should keep in mind that they are not elected by the people,” said Chief Justice of India Justice DY Chandrachud.

Heading a bench comprising Justice JB Pardiwala and Justice Manoj Misra as well, Chandrachud also remarked: “There has to be a little of soul-searching by all, by the Governors. Governors must act even before the matter comes to the Supreme Court. This has to come to an end when Governors act only when matters reach the Supreme Court.”

The Punjab administration claimed that Governor Banwarilal Purohit was causing administrative paralysis by failing to enforce seven Assembly-passed laws.

The Supreme Court has also termed it a matter of “serious concern” and said it was not happy with what is happening in the state.

The bench told both the Punjab government and the Governor, “Our country has been running on established traditions and conventions and they need to be followed.”

It pulled up the Punjab Governor for not giving assent to Bills passed by the state Assembly saying “You are playing by fire” and questioned his power to term the Assembly session as unconstitutional.