The Supreme Court on Monday, 20 November, questioned Tamil Nadu Governor RN Ravi on why he acted on the Bills that were long pending with him only after the apex court issued notice on the state government’s plea seeking its intervention.
The court posted the matter for further hearing on 1 December, thereby giving the Governor time to decide on the 10 Bills, including the ones relating to the appointments of the vice-chancellor of various universities.
After the apex court took up the hearing of the state government’s plea, the Governor returned the Bills on 16 November, after sitting on them for months. The Bills were then readopted by the state Assembly during its special session held on 18 November.
‘Should act as soon as possible’
The court reiterated that under Article 200 of the Constitution, the Governor has to act “as soon as possible” in exercising three options — give assent, withhold the assent and return the Bill for reconsideration, or reserve it for consideration by the President.
Chief Justice DY Chandrachud heading a bench also comprising Justice JB Pardiwala and Justice Manoj Misra noted that notice was issued by the court on 10 November and the Governor acted on 16 November.
The court then said: “The Governor took action only after we issued the notice. Does the Governor need to wait for the parties to move the Supreme Court? What was he doing for years?”
Attorney General R Venkataramani told the bench that the incumbent Governor took office on 18 September, 2021, suggesting that when the 2020 Bill was presented, he was not the Governor.
‘Issue is delaying constitutional functions’
However, Chief Justice Chandrachud said: “We are talking about the office of Governor… The issue is not whether any particular Governor delayed the Bill but whether, in general, there has been a delay in exercising the constitutional functions.”
The bench noted that the contentious Bills — relating to the appointment of the vice-chancellors for universities in the state — take away the powers of the Governor in the appointment process and vest it in the executive (state government).
Senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi appearing for the Tamil Nadu government said that after the Governor withheld the assent, he should send it back for reconsideration by the state Assembly and that failing it would be a mockery of Article 200 of the Constitution.
The said provision of the Constitution requires the Governor to give assent to a Bill passed again by the state Assembly.
He said that the Governor returned the Bills for reconsideration, “just like that”, without any observations — deficiencies in the Bills, that may be reconsidered by the state Assembly.
SOUTH FIRST VIEW: Keeping Bills warm no remit of Governors
‘Accorded prosecution sanction on inquiries’
Meanwhile, Governor Ravi submitted to the Supreme Court that he had accorded prosecution sanction to inquire former AIADMK ministers C Vijayabaskar and BV Ramana in a Gutkha case.
He added that he had also cleared the premature release of 362 prisoners out of the 580 prisoners recommended by the state government.
The bench was urged by senior advocates Singhvi and Mukul Rohatgi appearing for the Tamil Nadu government to take up the matter on Friday — 24 November — along with the plea of the Kerala government.
To which Attorney General Venkataramani asked: “Should we fix the time and how much time he (Governor Ravi) would require for the consideration of the Bills after being repassed by the state Assembly?”
Having posted the matter for further consideration on 1 December, the bench said that the other issues raised in the petition by the Tamil Nadu government — sanctions for the prosecution of public servants, premature release of the prisoners, appointment to the Tamil Nadu Public Service Commission (TNPSC) and the setting up of the commission for the search and selection of vice-chancellors of state universities too, would be taken up in the next hearing.
A note submitted to the court by Attorney General Venkataramani gave the breakup of the 181 Bills presented to the Governors since the DMK government came to power and said that except for 15, all the Bills were cleared by the Governor.
The TN government plea
In its plea, the state government has said that Governor Ravi has not taken any action on Bills sent to him from 2020 to 2023, as well as the government’s decisions on the appointment of the chairman and the members of the TNPSC, sanction for the prosecution of public servants, and the grant of remission to convicts.
Pointing to the sanction pending on the appointment of the chairman and members of the TNPSC, the Tamil Nadu government, in its petition, submitted that due to this the commission’s functions were stalled.
“The Governor is creating an adversarial attitude by not cooperating with the state administration,” added the petition.
The petition stated that the Governor, whom the Union Government appointed in line with the Constitution, had positioned himself as a political rival to the legitimately elected state government.
‘Serious concern’: Apex court
Describing as a matter of “serious concern” the Tamil Nadu Governor sitting on Bills passed by the Assembly, the court on 10 November, issued notice to the Union government to make clear its position on the inaction.
Chief Justice DY Chandrachud, heading a bench comprising Justices JB Pardiwala and Manoj Misra, also requested the assistance of Attorney General R Venkataramani and Solicitor General Tushar Mehta in the matter. It then posted the case for 20 November.
Referring to the tabulated statements of the Bills passed by the state Assembly pending with the Governor since January 2020 and other state government decisions requiring his sanction, the bench said, “We are of the view that it is a matter of serious concern.”
The court said that Article 200 of the Constitution requires the Bill passed by the state Assembly should be presented to the Governor, who can give assent or withhold and send it back for reconsideration, or reserve and send it to the President of India for consideration.
The Supreme Court reiterated this point at an earlier hearing on a petition filed by Punjab about the Governor delaying return files, by making the oral observation that the trend of Governors acting on pending Bills only after the states approached the court should stop.
Kerala has also approached the apex court seeking similar relief on pending Bills. In the past, the Telangana Governor had acted on the Bills soon after the government moved the Supreme Court.
(This article has been updated with details.)