SC criticises Kerala Governor Khan for sitting on Bills for two years, allows state to seek framing of guidelines

The court noted that the Governor acted on the pending Bills only after the Kerala government knocked on its doors.

ByParmod Kumar

Published Nov 29, 2023 | 4:02 PMUpdatedNov 29, 2023 | 4:36 PM

Supreme Court

The Supreme Court, on Wednesday, 29 November, questioned Kerala Governor Arif Mohammad Khan for sitting over and not acting on the eight Bills sent to him for his assent by the state government between 2021-2022.

The apex court also permitted the Kerala government to amend its petition to seek the framing of guidelines for handling the Bills — giving assent, returning to the Legislature for reconsideration, and reserving it for reference to the President — presented to him for his assent.

The Supreme Court also noted that Governor Khan acted on the eight Bills that were pending with him for two years only after the Kerala government knocked on its doors and he had given no reason for keeping the Bills pending.

Related: Kerala Governor Khan approves 1 Bill, sends 7 for Presidential approval

‘Governor can’t stand in the way’

Chief Justice DY Chandrachud, heading a bench also comprising Justice JB Pardiwala and Justice Manoj Misra, said that the Governor could not stand in the way of the government and the governance of the state.

Taking a dim view of the way Governor Khan has acted, CJI Chandrachud said: “The power of the Governor cannot be utilised to pause the law-making exercise of the Legislature.”

The court noted that three of the seven Bills that Governor Khan sent to the President on Tuesday were the ones on which the state Assembly had earlier promulgated and passed ordinances to which he had given assent.

Referring to the communication by Attorney General R Venkataramani informing the court that out of the eight Bills that were pending with Governor Khan since 2021 and 2022, one was assented and seven were referred to the President, the bench said that the prayers in the petition by the Kerala government stood addressed.

SOUTH FIRST VIEW: Keeping Bills warm no remit of Governors

‘Abstract issue’

As the court permitted the Kerala government to amend the petition to include prayer for the framing of the guidelines, Attorney General R Venkataramani tried to dissuade the court from adjudicating on the matter, describing it as an “abstract issue”.

Disagreeing with Attorney General Venkataramani, senior advocate KK Venugopal insisted and urged the bench to frame the guidelines, pointing out that instance of Governors delaying Bills was happening repeatedly. He referred to similar situations in other non-BJP-ruled states.

Senior advocate and former Attorney General Venugopal told the bench: “For two years, a welfare Bill is not allowed to be a law. The governance of the state is suffering. This is adversarial. Unless your Lordships (Judges) step in very strongly, it will affect citizens.”

Finding substance and the context in which Venugopal made his submission, the CJI Chandrachud said, “Mr AG there is some merit in it. Why is the Governor sitting on the Bills for two years.”

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

Court seeks details of political interference

In an apparent reference to the political exchanges between the government and the Governor, the Attorney General said, “I don’t want to get into the political arena …”

The bench, however, said, “We will go into it. It is about accountability.”

On the standoff between Governor Khan and the state government on the other pending Bills, the CJI said that the Governor needed to invite the chief minister and the minister in charge relating to the pending Bills sent to him between August-September 2023, and they would meet him.

Venugopal said that insistence on the Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan meeting the Governor Khan was a face-saver for the latter.

The Kerala government had approached the top court seeking directions to the state Governor Khan to give assent to the Bills that have been pending with him for the last two years.

What happened a day before

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.

Governor Khan on Tuesday 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.

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

Seven Bills reserved for Presidential Assent were:

  • University Laws Amendment 2021 (1st Amendment for major universities).
  • University Amendment 2021 (2nd Amendment for minor universities).
  • Lok Ayukta Bill that makes the executive the appellate authority instead of the Governor.
  • University Bill 2022 (divesting Governor of Chancellorship).
  • APJ Abdul Kalam Technical University Bill.
  • University Search Committee expansion related Bill.
  • 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.