Governors should do a ‘little bit of soul-searching’, SC says on holding back of crucial Bills

Governments of Punjab, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Telangana have recently moved the Supreme Court against delays by their respectivs Governors in giving assent to Bills passed by legislature 

November 06, 2023 12:16 pm | Updated 08:28 pm IST - New Delhi

Supreme Court of India. File

Supreme Court of India. File | Photo Credit: SHIV KUMAR PUSHPAKAR

The Supreme Court on Monday expressed acute displeasure at Governors holding back key Bills, especially in Opposition-ruled States such as Punjab, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Telangana, until State governments approach the top court for judicial intervention.

“This is a serious issue we should look into… Why should parties be made to approach the Supreme Court for the Governors to act. We are a democracy in operation since the birth of the Constitution. These are matters to be sorted out between the Governors and Chief Ministers. We will ensure that the Constitution is complied with,” Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud, heading a three-judge Bench, observed.

The Chief Justice said it was time everybody, including Governors and Chief Ministers, did “a little bit of soul-searching”.

“The Governors should not be oblivious of the fact that they are not elected by the people,” the Chief Justice noted.

The Bench was hearing a petition filed by the Punjab government accusing the Governor of sitting on seven key Bills related to subjects, including fiscal and State-affiliated colleges.

Advocate General for Punjab later clarified that three of the seven Bills were Money Bills, of which two have been recommended by the Governor after the petition was filed in the Supreme Court. Four Bills on other subjects, presented to the Governor in July, were still pending with him.

The State, represented by senior advocate A.M. Singhvi along with the Advocate General, said the Vidhan Sabha was adjourned sine die in March and recalled in June by the Speaker as per Rule 16 of the Vidhan Sabha Rules to pass the seven Bills. The Governor had objected, saying the session ought to have been prorogued and reconvened.

“This kind of thing has never happened in history,” Mr. Singhvi submitted.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said the Governor was taking “appropriate action” on the Bills presented to him.

“There are astonishing things happening here. They keep the Assembly alive, and whenever they want to abuse people, they meet. This is an unnecessary litigation. The Governor has taken action. He has dealt with the Bills appropriately by either declaring assent or referring to the President… I do not know. I will seek instructions and come back on Friday (November 10),” Mr. Mehta said.

The court also questioned the Assembly’s action to reconvene three months after the Vidhan Sabha was adjourned sine die in March.

“The Assembly was summoned on March 3 and adjourned sine die, without being prorogued, on March 22. The Speaker then reconvenes the Assembly three months later! Is that really the scheme of the Constitution? Or if there is a break of three months, d you not then prorogue the session... Here, the Budget Session has run into the Monsoon Session,” Chief Justice Chandrachud criticised the Punjab government.

Senior advocate K.K. Venugopal, for Kerala, intervened at this point to note that the State had also approached the Supreme Court against its Governor holding back crucial Bills. “Some of these Bills have been pending with him for over two years… When the Governor was told the State had approached the apex court, he said ‘let us see, we will fight it out’,” Mr. Venugopal submitted.

Tamil Nadu, represented by senior advocate P. Wilson, has accused Governor R.N. Ravi of toying with the citizens’ mandate by sitting on the Bills, neither assenting nor returning them. It said the Governor had positioned himself as a “political rival” who had caused a “constitutional deadlock” by simply sitting on the Bills for months together.

The Supreme Court had to intervene in April for Telangana Governor to slowly clear Bills pending since September 2022, compelling senior advocate Dushyant Dave, appearing for the State, to submit that legislatures in Opposition-ruled States were at the mercy of the Governors, who had become a law unto themselves.

West Bengal, Kerala and Tamil Nadu have even accused Governors in the Supreme Court of dabbling in the appointments of Vice-Chancellors to State-run universities.

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