20 Nov 2023 6:57 AM GMT
The Supreme Court on Monday (November 20) questioned the delay on the part of the Tamil Nadu Governor in disposing of the bills submitted for his assent since January 2020.The bench comprising Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud, Justice JB Pardiwala and Justice Manoj Misra noted that the Governor decided to "withhold" assent on ten bills, only after the Court issued notice on the writ...
The Supreme Court on Monday (November 20) questioned the delay on the part of the Tamil Nadu Governor in disposing of the bills submitted for his assent since January 2020.
The bench comprising Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud, Justice JB Pardiwala and Justice Manoj Misra noted that the Governor decided to "withhold" assent on ten bills, only after the Court issued notice on the writ petition filed by the Tamil Nadu Government on November 10. It may be noted that while issuing notice, the Court had observed that the Governor's inaction was a "matter of serious concern".
"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. What was the Governor doing for three years? Why should the Governor wait for the parties to approach the Supreme Court?", CJI DY Chandrachud asked Attorney General for India R Venkataramani.
AG replied that the dispute is only related to those bills which seek to divest the Governor's powers relating to the appointment of Vice Chancellors in State Universities and since it is an important issue, some reconsideration is required.
However, the bench noted that the oldest of the pending bills was sent to the Governor in January 2020. In the order, the bench recorded the dates on which the ten bills were sent to the Governor's office, which range from 2020 to 2023. When the AG said that the present Governor RN Ravi assumed office only in November 2021, the bench said that the concern is not related to the conduct of any particular Governor, but of the Governor's office in general.
"The issue is not whether any particular Governor delayed but whether in general there has been a delay in exercising Constitutional functions," observed the bench in the order.
After being informed that the Assembly has readopted the ten bills in a special session held last week, the bench adjourned the hearing till December 1 to await the further decision of the Governor.
Senior Advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for the State of Tamil Nadu, informed the bench that after the Court issued notice on the petition, the Governor stated that he had "withheld the assent" on certain bills. Following that, the Assembly convened a Special Session and readopted those very same bills.
Senior Advocate Dr A M Singhvi, also appearing for the State, informed that now fifteen bills are pending before the Governor, including ten bills which have been "re-passed" by the Assembly.
Rohatgi added that the Governor cannot simply "withhold" assent without providing any reasons and that the law required the Governor to give a note for reconsideration. However, the Governor simply issued a one-line communication that "I withhold assent", said the Senior Counsel.
Can the Governor withhold assent on a bill without sending it to the House?
During the hearing, the bench also delved into the powers of the Governor regarding bills as per Article 200 of the Constitution.
"The Governor under the substantive part of Article 200, has three courses of action - he can assent, he can withhold assent or he can reserve it for the consideration of the President. Now when does the proviso come into play? When he withholds assent, does he have to necessarily resend it to the legislature?" CJI Chandrachud asked. "The proviso uses an enabling phrase "may". The proviso says the Governor may resend to the legislature with a message. Our question is whether the Governor can simplicitor say that he is withholding assent?", CJI asked.
Singhvi said that the Governor has to return the bill "as soon as possible", otherwise it will be a mockery of the Constitutional provision. "Does your lordship envisage a 'pocket veto' for the Governor? Does he have a pocket veto?" asked Singhvi. Senior Advocate P Wilson, also appearing for the TN Government, submitted that if the Governor is allowed to withhold bills indefinitely, the governance will be paralysed and added that the Constitution never envisaged such a power for the Governor.
CJI further asked if the Governor can send the bill to the President after the bill has been re-passed by the house. Singhvi and Rohatgi unanimously replied that such a course is not open to the Governor after the bill has been passed again.
Bench records the statistics of bills in the order
In the order, the bench noted that the Governor's office has received altogether 181 bills, out of which assent has been granted for 152 bills. Five bills were withdrawn by the Government itself. Nine bills have been reserved for the assent of the President and assent has been withheld on ten bills. Five bills, which were received in October 2023, are under consideration.
It may be recalled that in an earlier hearing related to a similar petition filed by the State of Punjab, the court had stated that the trend of Governors acting on the bills only after the State Government approached the Court must stop. Another petition by the State of Kerala seeks similar relief against the Governor of Kerala. Earlier, a similar situation had happened in the State of Telangana, where the Governor acted on the pending bills only after the Government filed a writ petition.
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