Tamil Nadu Governor cannot refer re-enacted Bills to President, says Supreme Court

A Bench headed by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud said that the Bills re-passed by the assembly cannot be reserved for the President

December 01, 2023 03:20 pm | Updated December 02, 2023 12:06 am IST - NEW DELHI

Governor R.N. Ravi with Chief Minister M.K. Stalin at a function held at Raj Bhavan in Chennai on Thursday. File

Governor R.N. Ravi with Chief Minister M.K. Stalin at a function held at Raj Bhavan in Chennai on Thursday. File | Photo Credit: M. Vedhan

The Tamil Nadu government in the Supreme Court on Friday, December 1, 2023 criticised Governor R.N. Ravi for exhibiting “constitutional obstinacy” by referring 10 key Bills re-enacted by the State Assembly to the President for consideration on November 28.

A three-judge Bench headed by Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud said the Governor, having withheld his assent to the Bills in the first instance on November 13, cannot now refer the Bills, re-passed by the Tamil Nadu legislature, to the President.

The Supreme Court had issued notice to the Governor on November 10 on a writ petition filed by the State government, accusing Mr. Ravi of delaying consent to the Bills. On November 13, the Governor communicated to the Assembly that he had withheld consent to them. The Assembly, in a special session held on November 18, re-enacted the Bills without amendments and sent them again to the Governor for his assent. The Governor referred the Bills to the President on November 28 and informed the Assembly on November 30, a day before the Friday hearing in court.

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“Article 200 of the Constitution gives the Governor three choices - grant assent to the Bills or withhold assent or reserve them for the consideration of the President. In this case, the Governor withheld assent on November 13. Once he has withheld assent, there is no question of him referring them to the President,” Chief Justice Chandrachud addressed Attorney General R. Venkataramani, appearing for the Governor.

The CJI said once the Governor withholds assent, he cannot stultify the Bills. He has to send them back to the Assembly under the first proviso of Article 200. Consequently, if the Assembly re-passes the Bills, with or without amendments, the Governor has no choice left but to grant his assent to the Bills in the re-enacted form. The Chief Justice said this law has already been settled by the top court in its November 10 judgment concerning the delay caused by the Punjab Governor in assenting to certain Bills.

“When a Governor withholds his assent to a Bill, the Bill is not killed. He cannot stall the Bills at his level. The first proviso of Article 200 does not provide him with a fourth option… The Governor is only a nominee of the Union government. He cannot stultify the Bills completely at his level. He has only three options given in the substantive part of Article 200… Once the Assembly has re-passed the Bills, you (Governor) cannot say ‘now I will refer it to the President’. The first proviso’s last line is very clear. It says the Governor ‘shall not withhold assent’ to re-enacted Bills sent back to him for consent,” Chief Justice observed.

Mr. Venkataramani countered that the Governor had “simply withheld assent” on November 13. He had not sent back the Bills, but had only communicated to the Assembly that he had refused consent to the Bills.

The Attorney General said the first proviso operated at a level where the Governor, without withholding consent, sent a message back to the Assembly suggesting amendments to specific provisions or making recommendations to the Bills. The Assembly was free to reject the Governor’s suggestions, in which case the Governor had no option but to give his consent.

“Now, this was not a case when the Governor had asked the Assembly to reconsider the Bills or had recommended changes. Here, he had only communicated to the Assembly on November 13 that he had withheld assent… The Bills were not technically sent back to the Assembly for reconsideration,” Mr. Venkataramani argued.

“So, you are saying the Governor can just withhold consent and virtually kill the Bills?” Chief Justice asked.

The Attorney General’s submissions seemed to indicate that the 10 Bills were not re-enacted, but were considered as fresh Bills, in which case the Governor had exercised his option under Article 200 to refer to the President.

Senior advocates AM Singhvi and P. Wilson, for the State government, asked whether the Attorney General’s submissions implied that the Assembly had passed “a ghost” on November 18.

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“There is no fourth category of withholding consent and keeping it hanging. The Governor cannot keep the Bills hanging perennially. That means the Assembly’s re-passage of the Bills on November 18 was a futile exercise,” Mr. Singhvi said.

Mr. Wilson said the Governor was arguing that he had killed the Bills.

Mr. Singhvi said the Governor had never in the past denied in court that he had “returned” the Bills.

Mr. Venkataramani said the Assembly’s re-passage of the Bills showed that it did not care for the Governor’s assent.

Chief Justice Chandrachud, towards the end of the hearing, urged the Governor to resolve the impasse with the Chief Minister.

“So many things need to be resolved between the Chief Minister and the Governor. Please ask the Governor to engage with the Chief Minister… Let them sit down and discuss,” the CJI told Mr. Venkataramani.

The Attorney General’s response was a bleak one. He said there were cases when “both do not have any bonhomie”.

The court adjourned the case to December 8 even as Mr. Singhvi said the President should not process the Bills by that time.

“They know we are here,” Chief Justice Chandrachud assured the State government.

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