No vote for veto: On Governors and their powers

Supreme Court has done well to remove the veto power of Governors

November 25, 2023 12:15 am | Updated 12:53 pm IST

In a parliamentary democracy, Governors do not have a unilateral veto over Bills passed by the legislature. This is the crux of the Supreme Court’s ruling in a case arising from Punjab after Governor Banwarilal Purohit withheld assent to some Bills passed by the State Assembly on the pretext that these were adopted in an illegal session of the House. The Court’s reading of the scheme of Article 200, which deals with grant of assent to Bills, is in line with the core tenet of parliamentary democracy: that an elected regime responsible to the legislature runs the State’s affairs. While granting assent is a routine function, the other options — withholding assent or reserving a Bill for the President’s consideration — have been subjects of controversy. There is a proviso to the Article which states that “as soon as possible”, the Governor may return the Bill (if it is not a Money Bill) to the House for reconsideration, but when the Bill is passed again, with or without changes, he cannot withhold assent. The Supreme Court has now read the power to withhold assent and the proviso in conjuction, holding that whenever the Governor withholds assent, he has to send the Bill back to the legislature for reconsideration. This effectively means that the Governor either grants assents in the first instance or will be compelled to do so after the Bill’s second passage.

The Court has done well to point out that Governors, in a system that requires them to function mainly on the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers, cannot withhold action on Bills and must act as soon as possible. This is a clear reprimand administered to Governors who believe they can endlessly delay action on Cabinet or legislative proposals because of the absence of a prescribed time-frame. Mr. Purohit’s stand that the particular session of the Assembly was illegal — because an adjourned House was reconvened by the Speaker on his own — has been rejected. The Court has ruled that the earlier session had only been adjourned and not prorogued. The verdict should not give any further scope for controversy over the role played by Governors in the law-making process that culminates with their granting assent to Bills, and must end the tussle between elected regimes and the Centre’s appointees. There is still some residual scope for controversy if, as a result of Governors being divested of the power to reject Bills unilaterally, they start referring Bills they disapprove of to the President. Such an eventuality should not be allowed to arise.

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