After Tamil Nadu, Kerala government moves SC against Governor for withholding assent to Bills

The state requested the top court to issue 'appropriate orders' asking the Governor to clear Bills in a timely manner.

ByK A Shaji

Published Nov 02, 2023 | 1:26 PMUpdatedNov 02, 2023 | 1:35 PM

Arif Mohammad Khan

The Kerala government has approached the Supreme Court seeking “appropriate orders” asking Governor Arif Mohammad Khan to clear Bills passed by the state Legislative Assembly in a timely fashion.

As many as eight Bills have been pending with the Governor. Three of them have been pending for almost two years.

The government filed the writ petition more than a month after the state Cabinet decided to approach the apex court against the Governor for not giving assent to the Legislature-cleared Bills.

The ruling LDF has accused Governor Khan of being a puppet of the Sangh Parivar.

Kerala’s standing counsel CK Sasi filed the petition late on Wednesday, 1 November, accusing the Governor of disobeying federal principles and Constitutional rules by delaying the approval of eight crucial Bills that the state Assembly had passed in the past two years.

Related: ‘Politically motivated’ Governor keeping Bills pending: DMK govt

‘Biased and discriminatory’

The petition accused the Governor of being biased and discriminatory.

Governor Arif Mohammad Khan

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan with Governor Arif Mohammad Khan. (South First)

The state sought “appropriate orders from the Honourable Court in relation to inaction on the part of the Honourable Governor in relation to as many as eight Bills”.

Briefing the media on 27 September, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan compared Khan’s “disobedience of the people’s will” to that of provincial governors, who had broad discretionary powers during the colonial era.

He said the Cabinet had decided to file a lawsuit against the Governor.

Vijayan claimed that Khan was “mysteriously” refusing to sign the eight crucial Bills, making it impossible for the government to operate.

The state government preferred to move the Supreme Court based on legal advice from jurist Fali S. Nariman. KK Venugopal, a senior attorney, would represent the state during the hearing.

According to government sources, the Cabinet earlier decided to keep in abeyance its plan to approach the top court to reconsider its complaint against the Governor for a month.

The administration was forced to start the legal process now because Khan preferred not to broker any peace with the state government and spent most of his time last month away in Delhi or Mumbai.

The state filed the writ when the Governor was in Delhi, protesting against the state government’s refusal to invite him to the Keralayeelyam, a cultural extravaganza celebrating the state’s formation. The festival was formally inaugurated in Thiruvananthapuram on Wednesday.

Related: Left parties protest outside Kerala Raj Bhavan

State’s arguments

Kerala’s petition accused the Governor of violating the Constitution.

Bills row - graphics final

Click on the image to enlarge.

“The Governor’s actions also threaten to violate and overturn the very cores and foundations of our Constitution, such as the rule of law and democratic good governance,” it said.

The state also argued that the Governor was violating the rights of the people to benefit from the welfare measures sought to be put in place through the Bills.

Eight Bills sent to the Governor for his approval under Article 200 of the Constitution have not been cleared, the state government said.

Some of the Bills were introduced with the express purpose of removing the Governor from his position as the chancellor of the state’s several universities.

Another Bill mandating the approval of the state government’s selection of the chairperson of the State Human Rights Commission, too, has been pending with the Governor. The Governor, apparently, has been opposed to the latest nominee, Justice (Retd) S Manikumar, a former Chief Justice of Kerala.

The state government argued that the Governor must act on the submitted Bills as soon as possible, typically within a few weeks.

The petition argued that the state legislature, comprising elected representatives, had carefully considered the Bills and determined that they were crucial for the state government to make them into laws in public interest.

“A great deal of the Bills are of great public interest, and they offer welfare measures that the people of the state would be deprived of and denied to the extent of the delay,” the plea claimed.

Related: HC quashes plea against Governors withholding bills indefinitely

People’s rights violated

The writ also asked for a specific declaration that the Governor had not adhered to his constitutional duties and powers, specifically that he did not act quickly to address the submitted Bills.

The state also argued that besides being “blatantly arbitrary”, the Governor’s actions violated Article 14 (equality before the law) of the Constitution.

Furthermore, by denying the people of Kerala access to welfare laws passed by the state Assembly, the Governor violated their rights under Article 21 (Protection of Life and Personal Liberty) of the Constitution, the appeal said.

Incidentally, the Tamil Nadu government, too, has moved the Supreme Court against Governor RN Ravi for establishing himself as a “political rival” of the state government and impeding the state Legislative Assembly’s ability to perform its functions by unduly postponing the consideration of Bills that the Assembly has passed.

Tamil Nadu also listed 12 Bills pending with Governor Ravi.

The state requested the top court to set a deadline by which the Governor should handle all Bills, files, and government orders. The state claimed that the Governor’s inactions resulted in a “constitutional deadlock between the constitutional head of the state and the elected government of the state.”

In April this year, the Supreme Court noted that Governors must return the Bills “as soon as possible” in accordance with the Article 200 of the Constitution while deliberating over a comparable petition that Telangana had filed against the Governor of that state.

Punjab, too, has approached the Supreme Court against the Governor.

Punjab, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala are ruled by non-BJP parties.