Imperial excess: On Governors and limits

Governors must work within constitutional parameters, not as agents of the Centre

February 03, 2022 12:02 am | Updated 10:41 am IST

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s outburst against Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar on Monday was not a first but it brought to the fore, yet again, the role of the Governor in relation with the elected government and legislature. Mr. Dhankhar and his counterparts in Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra appear to be testing the limits of their power and confronting the elected governments and legislatures in recent weeks. Tired of Mr. Dhankhar’s constant tirade against her on Twitter, Ms. Banerjee blocked him on the platform. The Governor then sent her a message for “dialogue and harmony amongst constitutional functionaries” but promptly posted that too on Twitter. The Chief Minister said the Governor was trying to treat the elected government as “bonded labour”. He has been summoning the Chief Secretary and the Director General of Police on a regular basis, and when they do not turn up, taking to Twitter and often tagging the Chief Minister. Mr. Dhankhar also had a run-in with Assembly Speaker Biman Banerjee recently, on the premises of the State Assembly. He has withheld assent to the Howrah Municipal Corporation (Amendment) Bill 2021, delaying polls to the civic body. He has made allegations of impropriety in welfare schemes, questioned Government claims about investments in the State, and taken up the cudgels for the Opposition BJP.

In Maharashtra, Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari has stalled the election of Speaker since the post fell vacant in February 2021. He has taken umbrage over the amendments in the legislative rules for holding the Speaker’s election through voice vote instead of secret ballot. The Governor’s view that the State Assembly cannot decide its own rules is unacceptable to the ruling coalition, but is being cheered by the Opposition BJP. Mr. Koshyari had in the past batted for the BJP, supporting its demand for a special session of the Assembly on women’s safety and security. He had refused to accept the recommendation of the Council of Ministers on the nomination of 12 members to the Legislative Council, until the matter reached the High Court. In Tamil Nadu, Governor R.N. Ravi has not acted upon the T.N. Admission to Undergraduate Medical Degree Courses Bill, adopted by the Assembly in September 2021. The Governor is required to either send it to the President of India for approval or return it for reconsideration by the Assembly, but the indefinite delay in taking a decision amounts to undermining the legislature, and is unjustifiable. The Bill relates to a question of State-Centre relations, as it proposes to dispense with the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) for medical graduate admissions in the State. NEET has been criticised for curtailing State powers, and the Governor’s delay in processing the Bill is only aggravating the situation. Some of these issues may require debate and discussion before resolution. But any imperial overtone of Governors can only do harm to the constitutional scheme of things.

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