Governors cannot ‘thwart normal course of lawmaking’ by legislatures, Supreme Court asserts

Reacting to the court's ruling, Congress leader P Chidambaram said: 'Governor of TN should read every line of the judgement'.

BySouth First Desk

Published Nov 24, 2023 | 4:01 PMUpdatedNov 24, 2023 | 4:01 PM

Supreme Court of India

The Supreme Court has made it clear that state Governors are entrusted with Constitutional powers but are not supposed to use them to thwart the ordinary course of lawmaking by state legislatures. The apex court stated that Governors cannot be at liberty to keep Bills pending indefinitely without any action.

The court pointed out that unbridled discretion to the Governor would “virtually veto” the functioning of the legislative domain by a duly-elected legislature.

The court made the observations in its 10 November judgement, which was uploaded on Thursday night (23 November), on the plea of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government in Punjab, which alleged the Governor was not granting his assent to four Bills which were duly passed by the Assembly.

The judgement comes at a time two more states — Tamil Nadu and Kerala — have similar pleas about Governors sitting on Bills for long periods of time in the apex court. In some cases, the inaction has extended for almost two years.

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‘Contrary to Constitutional democracy’

A bench comprising Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud, and Justices B Pardiwala and Manoj Misra, said such a course of action would be contrary to fundamental principles of a Constitutional democracy based on a Parliamentary pattern of governance.

“The Governor, as an unelected head of the state, is entrusted with certain constitutional powers. However, this power cannot be used to thwart the normal course of lawmaking by state legislatures.

“Consequently, if the Governor decides to withhold assent under the substantive part of Article 200, the logical course of action is to pursue the course indicated in the first proviso of remitting the Bill to the state legislature for reconsideration,” the bench said in its judgement.

The bench said if the Governor decides to withhold assent to a Bill, then he has to return the Bill to the legislature for reconsideration.

“If the Governor decides to withhold assent under the substantive part of Article 200, the logical course of action is to pursue the course indicated in the first proviso of remitting the Bill to the state legislature for reconsideration.”

Also read: SC seeks responses over Kerala plea accusing Governor

‘Federalism and democracy are inseparable’

“In other words, the power to withhold assent under the substantive part of Article 200 must be read together with the consequential course of action to be adopted,” it said.

The top court said federalism and democracy, both parts of the basic structure, are inseparable.

“When one feature is diluted, it puts the other in peril. The tuning fork of democracy and federalism is vital to the realisation of the fundamental freedoms and aspirations of our citizens. Whenever one prong of the tuning fork is harmed, it damages the apparatus of constitutional governance,” it said.

The apex court directed Punjab Governor Banwarilal Purohit to decide on the Bills passed by the legislative Assembly during its “constitutionally valid” session held on 19 and 20 June, saying the Governor’s power cannot be used to “thwart the normal course of lawmaking”.

The Punjab government had also sought a judicial declaration that the assembly session held on 19 and 20 June was “legal and that the business transacted by the House is valid”.

Also read: SC asks TN Governor on why he acted on Bills only after it issued notice

‘Not open to Governor after Speaker takes decision’

In the matter of the Assembly Speaker’s powers and the validity of the legislature’s sessions, the apex court held this aspect was not open to the Governor after the Speaker made the decisions.

“We are of the view that there is no valid Constitutional basis to cast doubt on the validity of the session of the Vidhan Sabha, which was held on 19 June, 2023, 20 June, 2023, and 20 October, 2023.

“Any attempt to cast doubt on the session of the legislature would be replete with grave perils to democracy. The Speaker, who has been recognised to be a guardian of the privileges of the House and the constitutionally recognised authority who represents the House, was acting well within his jurisdiction in adjourning the House sine die,” the CJI, who wrote the judgement for the bench, said.

Casting doubt on the validity of the session of the House is not a constitutional option open to the Governor, it said, adding the legislative assembly comprises duly elected MLAs and is governed by the decisions taken by the Speaker.

“We are, therefore, of the view that the Governor of Punjab must now proceed to take a decision on the Bills which have been submitted for assent on the basis that the sitting of the House, which was conducted on 19 June, 2023, 20 June, 2023, and 20 October, 2023, was constitutionally valid,” it said.

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‘Real power vested with elected representatives’

The top court also clarified that it has not expressed any opinion regarding how the Governor will exercise his jurisdiction on the Bills in question presented to him.

“In a Parliamentary form of democracy, real power vests in the elected representatives of the people. The governments, both in the states and at the Centre, consist of members of the State Legislature and, as the case may be, Parliament.

“Members of the government in a Cabinet form of government are accountable to and subject to scrutiny by the legislature. The Governor, as an appointee of the President, is the titular head of State,” the judgement said.

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

The Bills in question

Purohit is locked in a running feud with the AAP government in Punjab led by Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann.

On 1 November, Purohit approved two of the three Bills sent to him, days after he wrote to Mann saying he would examine all proposed laws on their merit before allowing them to be tabled in the Assembly.

The Governor’s approval is needed to table money Bills in the House. Purohit has approved the Punjab Goods and Services Tax (Amendment) Bill, 2023 and the Indian Stamp (Punjab Amendment) Bill, 2023.

Four other Bills — the Sikh Gurdwaras (Amendment) Bill, 2023, the Punjab Universities Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2023, the Punjab Police (Amendment) Bill, 2023 and the Punjab Affiliated Colleges (Security of Service) Amendment Bill, 2023 — are awaiting the Governor’s assent.

These Bills were passed during the June 19-20 session of the Punjab Assembly. The Governor had termed such an extended session as “patently illegal”.

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Chidambaram asks TN Governor to ‘read every line’

Meanwhile, Senior Congress leader P Chidambaram on Friday said the Supreme Court’s judgment asking Punjab Governor Banwarilal Purohit to decide on granting assent to bills passed by the state Assembly was a stern “rebuke” to not only Purohit but to all Governors and called on Tamil Nadu Governor RN Ravi to read every line of the ruling.

His remarks come after Tamil Nadu Governor Ravi returned 10 Bills passed by the State Assembly after the government moved the Supreme Court against the inordinate delay.

On Saturday, the Tamil Nadu Assembly met for a special sitting and re-adopted all of them, even as Chief Minister MK Stalin slammed the Governor for withholding the Bills due to his “whims and fancies.”

In a post on X, Chidambaram said, “The judgement of the Supreme Court on the Governor’s powers is a stern rebuke to not only the Governor of Punjab but to all Governors.”

“Mr RN Ravi, Governor of TN, should read every line of the judgement and, if he thinks it necessary, call a competent senior advocate to explain the judgement to him,” the former Union minister said.

(With PTI inputs)