What was Kerala Governor doing for 2 years on Bills, asks Supreme Court

The Supreme Court permits Kerala to amend petition to include plea to frame guidelines for gubernatorial powers under Article 200

November 29, 2023 03:43 pm | Updated November 30, 2023 12:19 am IST - NEW DELHI

 Kerala Governor Arif Mohammed Khan speaks to the media on Kerala govt’s petition in Supreme Court against him, in Thiruvananthapuram on Tuesday.

Kerala Governor Arif Mohammed Khan speaks to the media on Kerala govt’s petition in Supreme Court against him, in Thiruvananthapuram on Tuesday. | Photo Credit: ANI

The Supreme Court on Wednesday found substance in the argument of the State of Kerala that Governor Arif Mohammad Khan behaved like an “adversary” by keeping eight key Bills pending for two years before granting assent to one and referring seven to the President.

A three-judge Bench headed by Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud noted that neither reason nor justification was given by the Governor to keep the Bills pending for such an “inordinately long period”. It also did not escape the Court’s attention that the Governor dealt with the Bills only after notice was issued to the Raj Bhavan on November 20 on a petition filed by Kerala.

“There is some substance in what is being argued by the State here. What was the Governor doing for two years on these Bills… The power of the Governor cannot be used to thwart the normal process of democratic law-making by the legislature,” Chief Justice Chandrachud observed.

Attorney General R. Venkataramani, appearing for the Governor’s office, said there were both “political and non-political dimensions” to what happened. “I don’t want to get into it,” he said.

“But we will get into it. There needs to be accountability by the Governor. There is accountability by us towards our constitutional duties… People ask us,” the Chief Justice retorted.

Senior advocate K.K. Venugopal, for Kerala, said no single constitutional authority can exercise power arbitrarily. “Please step in strongly or people will suffer. A carte blanche cannot be given to Governors. Under Article 168, a Governor is a part of a State legislature,” he emphasised.

Mr. Venkataramani, at one point, said “it was easy to present every Bill as a people-friendly Bill”.

But Mr. Venugopal persisted that the Governor should give reasons to the House for referring the seven Bills to the President.

“He (Governor) should explain if the Bills had violated Article 254 (inconsistency between central and State laws) or whether the Bills had trenched into the Union List. He cannot blindly send the seven Bills to the President… Besides, there are eight other Bills, one a Money Bill, passed two months ago pending with him for his assent,” Mr. Venugopal submitted.

He said the court should lay down guidelines on when Governors can refer Bills to the President; by when they should refuse sanction; and by what period they should give assent under Article 200. The court allowed Kerala to file an application to amend the current petition to include points for framing guidelines. It said the petition in its present form had worked itself out as soon as the Governor had dealt with the eight Bills pending since 2021.

Mr. Venugopal said three of the seven Bills - University Laws Amendment Bill (1st Amendment) 2021 Bill No. 50, University Laws Amendment Bill (1st Amendment) 2021 Bill No. 54 and University Laws Amendment Bill 2022 - referred to the President by Governor Khan were initially ordinances promulgated by the Governor himself.

“The Governor himself had assented to these ordinances which became Bills. Article 213(1) of the Constitution stipulates that a Governor shall not promulgate any ordinance without instructions from the President. So, at that time, the Governor had not found anything unconstitutional in the competence of the State legislature to make these laws,” he asked.

Mr. Venugopal termed the Attorney General’s offer to have the Governor and Kerala Chief Minister “sit together” to iron out issues as a “face-saving gesture”.

The Chief Justice asked whether the State was in court to settle a “political score” or find a neutral ground to resolve the issue.

“Let us hope some political sagacity takes place in the State. If that happens, it will not be necessary to lay down guidelines… We leave it to the sagacity of both the Governor and the Chief Minister to find a way out. Otherwise, we are here to lay down the guidelines,” the Chief Justice observed.

Mr. Venkataramani however said he did not want to comment on “what was happening in the State”.

“There are so many things that have happened in the State,” he said obliquely.

To this, Mr. Venugopal asked what the Attorney General had meant by his comment. “The State is functioning beautifully. It is the number one State in agriculture, public health care… What is he insinuating? This is inappropriate,” Mr. Venugopal reacted to the Attorney General’s remarks.

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