Tamil Nadu Assembly Speaker M. Appavu on Wednesday questioned why the President does not provide reasons for withholding assent and returning a Bill passed by the State Assembly.
Pointing to (some) Governors sitting on the Bills passed by the Assembly, he called for setting a binding time frame for deciding on any Bill. Mr. Appavu was speaking at the 82nd All India Presiding Officers Conference in Shimla.
A transcript of his speech was circulated in the media.
Mr. Appavu asked, “When a Bill passed by the State is reserved for the consideration of the President and if the President withholds the assent and returns the Bill, should not the President give reasons? How will the House know what is the real impediment to the withholding of the assent?”
It may be recalled that the President had withheld assent to two Bills opposing the National Entrance-cum-Eligibility Test (NEET) adopted by the Tamil Nadu Assembly in 2017 when the AIADMK was in power. A Bill to admit students to undergraduate medical courses on the basis of their Plus-Two marks, instead of the NEET score, passed by the DMK government earlier this year was sent to the Raj Bhavan. But its fate remains unknown.
Mr. Appavu contended that since the House reflected the will of the people, withholding of assent to a Bill “amounted to rejection of the will of the people of that State”. If the House was made aware of the reasons, it could enact another Bill correcting the shortfalls that caused the President to withhold the assent.
Mr. Appavu said that when a Bill was passed by the majority and sent for the assent of the Governors, “the Governors sometimes sit on the Bill without giving his assent or returning the Bill for an indefinite period, even though the Constitution requires it to be done as soon as possible”.
The Speaker also pointed out that when a Bill is required to be reserved for the consideration of the President, Governors “are taking months together” to do so. This, he contended, eroded the authority of the legislatures.
“The Governors, though heads of the State Executive, are appointed by the Union Government. Therefore, when they stall the assent to a Bill, they are virtually overruling the will of the people of the State. We have to work together to set a binding time frame within which Bills have to be assented to, returned or reserved for the consideration of the President by the Governors,” Mr. Appavu argued.
Though the courts that refused to even review the decisions of the presiding officers had started a judicial review of these matters, a very heavy responsibility was cast on the presiding officers to ensure that their functions were in accordance with the Constitution so that the judiciary was not called upon to test the decisions of the Speakers.