Governors can’t sit on Bills passed by Assembly: Supreme Court

The Court says real power vests with elected representatives of people in a parliamentary form of democracy; court warns Punjab Governor that “you are playing with fire”

Updated - November 10, 2023 10:37 pm IST

Published - November 10, 2023 09:48 pm IST - NEW DELHI

The apex court settled the law in a writ petition filed by the Punjab government, complaining that Governor Banwarilal Purohit (in picture) has held back crucial Bills. File

The apex court settled the law in a writ petition filed by the Punjab government, complaining that Governor Banwarilal Purohit (in picture) has held back crucial Bills. File | Photo Credit: ANI

The Supreme Court on Friday laid down that a Governor cannot sit on key Bills passed by a State Legislature after casting doubts on the validity of the Assembly session in which the proposed laws were passed with overwhelming majority by the elected representatives of the people.

The apex court settled the law in a writ petition filed by the Punjab government, represented by senior advocate A.M. Singhvi, complaining that Governor Banwarilal Purohit has held back crucial Bills on Sikh gurdwaras, the police and higher education passed in a special sitting of the Budget Session of the Vidhan Sabha on June 19 and June 20, 2023.

Warning the Governor that “you are playing with fire”, the court directed him to take a decision on the long-pending Bills which have been presented to him for assent.

“Real power vests with the elected representatives of the people in a parliamentary form of democracy. The Governor, as an appointee of the President, is a titular head of the State. The Governor acts on the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers save in areas where the Constitution gives him discretion. The power to take decisions affecting the governance of the State or the nation is essentially entrusted to the elected arm of the state. Governor is intended to be a constitutional statesman guiding the government on matters of constitutional concern,” the court held.

‘Breach of practice’

Mr. Purohit had held back the Bills on the ground that the Speaker had adjourned the Budget Session of the House sine die in March without proroguing it. He refused to consider the proposed laws presented to him on the ground that the special Assembly sitting in which the Bills were passed in June was “patently illegal” and in breach of the practice and procedure under the Punjab Vidhan Sabha Rules. The Governor, responding through his secretary, said the House had convened again in October to pass three Money Bills. Two of these Money Bills were recommended for introduction in the House after the State government moved the Supreme Court. One is still pending action with the Governor, who claimed that the October sitting convened by the Speaker was also illegal. He contended that it was not open for the Speaker to drag the Budget Session into the Monsoon Session.

The Governor said the Speaker had no authority to adjourn the House sine die in perpetuation without proroguing it. Adjourning sine die is an “interruption of one and the same session” while prorogation is a termination of the session. The Speaker adjourns the House. The Governor prorogues it.

The court however disagreed with Mr. Purohit’s claims, holding that the Speaker was well within his rights to adjourn the House.

“The Speaker, who has been recognised to be the guardian of the privilege of the House and constitutionally recognised authority who represents the House, was acting well within his jurisdiction in adjourning the House sine die,” the court concluded.

Chief Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, dictating the order in court, said it was the right of each House of Legislature to be the sole judge of the lawfulness of its own proceedings.

‘Within rules’

“The convening of the House on June 19-20 was within the ambit of Rule 16 of the Punjab Vidhan Sabha Rules… Any attempt to cast doubts on the session of the legislature would be fraught with grave peril to democracy,” the court cautioned the Governor.

The Bench observed that a House was governed by the decisions of the Speaker on adjournments. It would not be constitutionally valid for the Governor to question how the Speaker exercised his jurisdiction over the conduct of the House. The court said the Governor could either assent to the Bills, withhold assent and send them back with a “message” to reconsider them or refer them to the President.

“How can you [Governor] sit in judgment on whether the session was prorogued or not?” the Chief Justice asked.

However, the court orally said the Speaker’s jurisdiction to adjourn sine die cannot be utilised to keep the House in a perpetual session.

When asked by the court whether such a course of action could be used to justify the indefinite adjournment of the House sine die so as to obviate the prorogation of the House, Mr. Singhvi assured that the Punjab Chief Minister would take steps to initiate with the Governor the early convening of the Winter Session of the Punjab Vidhan Sabha.

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