Governor holds no veto power over Bills, says Supreme Court

Bills need to be sent back to Legislature ‘as soon as possible’; in case the State Assembly reiterates the Bill ‘with or without amendments’, the Governor has no choice or discretion, and has to give his assent to it, rules Supreme Court 

November 23, 2023 10:19 pm | Updated November 24, 2023 09:36 am IST - NEW DELHI

Ruling on a petition by the Punjab government against Governor Banwarilal Purohit’s (in picture) action to hold back crucial Bills, the Supreme Court held that a Governor who chooses to withhold a Bill without doing anything further would be acting in contravention of the Constitution. File

Ruling on a petition by the Punjab government against Governor Banwarilal Purohit’s (in picture) action to hold back crucial Bills, the Supreme Court held that a Governor who chooses to withhold a Bill without doing anything further would be acting in contravention of the Constitution. File | Photo Credit: ANI

The Supreme Court has laid down the law that a Governor, in case he withholds assent, should send back a Bill forwarded to him by a State Legislature “as soon as possible” with a message to reconsider the proposed law.

In case, the State Assembly reiterates the Bill “with or without amendments”, the Governor has no choice or discretion, and has to give his assent to it.

Editorial |Unheeded advice: On the conduct of Governors

“The substantive part of Article 200 empowers the Governor to withhold assent to the Bill. In such an event, the Governor must mandatorily follow the course of action which is indicated in the first proviso of communicating to the State Legislature ‘as soon as possible’ a message warranting the reconsideration of the Bill... The ultimate decision on whether or not to accept the advice of the Governor as contained in the message belongs to the legislature alone. That the message of the Governor does not bind the legislature is evident from the use of the expression ‘if the Bill is passed again …with or without amendments’,” a three-judge Bench headed by Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud has held.

The court held that a Governor who chooses to withhold a Bill without doing anything further would be acting in contravention of the Constitution.

“The Governor as the unelected Head of State would be in a position to virtually veto the functioning of the legislative domain by a duly elected legislature by simply declaring that assent is withheld without any further recourse. Such a course of action would be contrary to fundamental principles of a constitutional democracy based on a Parliamentary pattern of governance. The Governor is under Article 168 a part of the legislature and is bound by the constitutional regime,” the court held.

The court held that the Bill should be sent back to the Legislature “as soon as possible” with the mandatory message. It said the expression “as soon as possible” conveyed a “constitutional imperative of expedition”.

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“Failure to take a call and keeping a Bill duly passed for indeterminate periods is a course of action inconsistent with that expression. Constitutional language is not surplusage,” Chief Justice Chandrachud wrote in the 27-page judgment.

The judgment was based on a petition filed by the Punjab government against its Governor’s action to hold back crucial Bills.

However, the verdict would be a significant boost to Tamil Nadu’s case. The Tamil Nadu Assembly had returned 10 crucial Bills to Governor R.N. Ravi without any amendments. The Governor had withheld assent to the Bills in the first instance.

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