05:41 PM, Monday,20 November 2023
The Supreme Court on Monday sought a response from Kerala Governor Arif Mohammad Khan on a petition by the State government that he is indefinitely holding back key Bills presented to him for assent.
Appearing before a three-judge Bench headed by Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud, senior advocate K.K. Venugopal and advocate C.K. Sasi said the delay had grown to be an “endemic” among Governors of certain States.
Mr. Venugopal said the Bills had been pending for seven to 23 months. The Governor was a part of the State Legislature under Article 168. The Governor could not act in a way which was contrary to the wishes of the elected representatives of the people.
Article 168 spells out that “for every State, there shall be a Legislature which shall consist of the Governor and two Houses to be known respectively as the Legislative Council and the Legislative Assembly”.
The Chief Justice Bench issued notice to the Governor and the Additional Chief Secretary to the Governor. The court listed the case urgently on November 24.
Governor trying to ‘defeat rights of people’
Kerala said the Governor was trying to “defeat the rights of the people” of the State by indefinitely sitting on crucial Bills, especially those addressing post-COVID-19 public health concerns.
The State said the arbitrary show of lack of urgency by the Governor violated the fundamental right to life of the people of Kerala.
“The conduct of the Governor in keeping Bills pending for long and indefinite periods of time is manifestly arbitrary and also violates Article 14 (right to equality) of the Constitution. Additionally, it defeats the rights of the people of the State of Kerala under Article 21 (right to life) of the Constitution, by denying them the benefits of welfare legislation enacted by the State Assembly.”
A 461-page petition, the second one filed by the State against the Governor in just two weeks, said the first proviso to Article 200, which governs the conduct of the Governor when a Bill is presented to him for assent, mandates for immediate consideration and action. The Governor can either declare his assent to the Bill, return it with a message to the House or refer it to the President.
However, the Article requires the Governor to act “as soon as possible”, that is within a reasonable time.
Kerala said eight key Bills were currently pending with the Governor. Some of these Bills had been held back for over two years. Mr. Venugopal, appearing in the case for the State, recently informed the Supreme Court that the Governor continued to be unfazed even after Kerala’s having moved the Supreme Court against him.
‘Subversion of Constitution’
“Many of the Bills involve immense public interest, and provide for welfare measures which would stand deprived and denied to the people of the State to the extent of the delay… Grave injustice is being done to the people of the State, as also to its representative democratic institutions (i.e. the State Legislature and the Executive), by the Governor by keeping Bills pending for long periods of time, including three Bills for longer than two years. The Governor appears to be of the view that granting assent or otherwise dealing with Bills is a matter entrusted to him in his absolute discretion, to decide whenever he pleases. This is a complete subversion of the Constitution,” the petition has said.
Besides Kerala approaching the top court, other non-BJP ruled States had accused their Governors of using a non-existent discretion to unreasonably delay the passing of crucial Bills into law.
Tamil Nadu’s charge against Governor
Tamil Nadu had accused Governor R.N. Ravi of toying with the citizens’ mandate by sitting on the Bills by neither assenting nor returning them. It said the Governor had positioned himself as a “political rival”, causing a “constitutional deadlock” by simply sitting on the Bills for months together.
Punjab had complained that seven of its Bills were stuck with the Governor since June, threatening to bring the administration to a “grinding halt”.
The Supreme Court had to intervene in April for Telangana Governor to clear Bills pending since September 2022, compelling advocate Dushyant Dave, appearing for the State, to submit that legislatures in Opposition-ruled States were at the mercy of the Governors, who had become a law unto themselves.