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Governors Cannot Keep Bills Pending Indefinitely: SC

The top court said that the indefinite withholding of Bills lets the governor, an unelected Head of the State, veto the functioning of the duly elected legislature in contravention of constitutional democratic principles.
The Supreme Court. Photo: Pinakpani/Wikimedia Commons. CC BY-SA 4.0.

New Delhi: Governors are not empowered to keep a Bill pending indefinitely without any action whatsoever, the Supreme Court has ruled.

Article 200 of the constitution empowers governors to either give assent to passed Bills, withhold assent, or reserve them for the president’s consideration when he or she receives a Bill from the state government.

The apex court highlighted that the “substantive part of Article 200 empowers the governor to withhold assent to the Bill”, and that in such an event, the governor must communicate it to the State Legislature “as soon as possible”, warranting the reconsideration of the Bill.

“The expression “as soon as possible” is significant. It conveys a constitutional imperative of expedition. Failure to take a call and keeping a Bill duly passed for indeterminate periods is a course of action inconsistent with that expression. Constitutional language is not surplusage,” its judgment read.

It further said that failing to read the governor’s power in Article 200 in this manner would put him in a “position to virtually veto” the elected legislature’s functioning.

“Such a course of action would be contrary to [the] fundamental principles of a constitutional democracy based on a parliamentary pattern of governance,” it added.

Additionally, the court said that governors are required to “declare” which option they choose to exercise.

These remarks were made by the Supreme Court’s three-judge bench, headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) D.Y. Chandrachud, on a November 10 ruling, based on a plea by the Punjab government against governor Banwarilal Purohit. The governor had kept seven Bills, sent to him by the state legislature, pending.

The bench’s detailed judgment was made public on Thursday, November 23.

Also Read: Governors as Ruling Party’s Storm Troopers

Implications for other states

Similar petitions have been filed by the Kerala and Tamil Nadu governments.

The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam-led Tamil Nadu government had moved the Supreme Court in October over governor R.N. Ravi’s delay in clearing Bills passed by the state legislature.

According to the Hindu, the Bills had been sent for approval to the governor’s office in the period between January 2020 to April 2023.

Responding to the state government’s plea, the Supreme Court, on November 10, said that this was a “matter of serious concern” and issued a notice to the Union government, PTI reported.

Three days later, Ravi returned 10 Bills to the legislature for reconsideration, following which the assembly passed them again.

On November 2o, the Supreme Court reiterated its concerns over the delay.

“Mr Attorney, the Governor says he has disposed of these Bills on November 13. Our concern is that our order was passed on November 10. These Bills have been pending since January 2020. It means that the governor took the decision after the court issued notice,” the CJI said, according to LiveLaw.

He continued: “What was the governor doing for three years? Why should the governor wait for the parties to approach the Supreme Court?”

According to Article 200, governors are required to give assent to non-money Bills that have been reconsidered and passed by state legislatures regardless of whether they have been amended.

The top court will hear a similar petition by Kerala’s government today (November 24) and will resume hearing Tamil Nadu’s petition on December 1.

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