Governor can't sit on bills, question speaker’s decision on adjournment: SC
Three state governments have approached the Supreme Court for directions to the respective governors to clear bills they have been sitting on for too long
The Supreme Court of India this week pulled up Punjab governor Banwari Lal Purohit and Tamil Nadu governor RN Ravi, for sitting on bills passed by the state legislatures and sent to the governors for their assent.
While Purohit refused to sign bills passed in June on grounds that the assembly session was not 'valid', Ravi has offered no reason for sitting on the bills, some of them for as long as three years.
What makes the Punjab assembly session invalid? Purohit argued that while the budget session was convened in March, the speaker had failed to prorogue the session but merely adjourned it sine die; the speaker convened the house again in May-June, and once again adjourned it instead of proroguing or discontinuing it.
While under the Constitution, the legislature has to have three sessions every year — budget, monsoon and winter — the Punjab assembly’s budget session continues in its adjourned state in November 2023. This is what the governor had objected to. While the governor generally convenes a session, the Supreme Court held that it was for the speaker to decide on whether to adjourn the session or prorogue it.
The Sikh Gurdwaras (Amendment) Bill 2023, the Punjab Universities Laws (Amendment) Bill 2023, the Punjab Police (Amendment) Bill 2023 and the Punjab Affiliated Colleges (Security of Service) Amendment Bill 2023 are awaiting the governor’s assent. These bills were passed during the June 19-20 session of the Punjab assembly, which the governor had termed "patently illegal".
The SC bench presided over by Chief Justice DY Chandrachud has directed Purohit to decide on the bills on merit. The bench pointed out that under the Constitution, the governor could give his assent to the bills, return them with his objections, or refer them to the President of India. This is required to be done within a reasonable time-frame, the court observed.
“You (governor) are playing with fire. How can the governor say the bills passed by the assembly are invalid because the session was irregular? These are bills passed by a duly elected body… Not clearing the bills saying that the session is unconstitutional is like playing with fire. Will we continue to be a parliamentary democracy?” the CJI-led bench wondered.
“Please don’t deflect the course of bills passed by the duly elected assembly. It’s a matter of very serious concern,” the bench told additional solicitor-general Satyapal Jain, who represented the governor’s office.
The court was assured by Abhishek Manu Singhvi, who was representing the Punjab government, that the government intended to hold the winter session and possibly the 'missing' monsoon session of the Assembly in the next two months of the year.
On the petition filed by the Tamil Nadu government, counsel Singhvi and P Wilson informed the court that governor Ravi had held back even files seeking sanction for prosecution of public servants in corruption cases, pleas for premature release of prisoners, and appointments to the Tamil Nadu Public Service Commission (TNPSC).
“The bills have been pending since January 2020. We have been begging him to consider them. We have been begging him to grant sanction for prosecution. We have been begging him for remission… He is doing nothing," Singhvi said. Wilson added that 10 of 14 posts in the TNPSC, including that of the chairperson, were vacant. The SC called for the governor’s response and adjourned the hearing.
Meanwhile, the Kerala government, too, has filed a petition in the SC alleging that governor Arif Mohammed Khan has arbitrarily held on to bills passed by the state legislature for an indefinite period. Of the eight bills passed by the legislature, three have been pending with the governor for more than two years, and three others for more than a year.
It further pointed out that the Kerala Private Forest (Vesting and Assignment) Bill 2023, presented to the governor on 6 April, had been disposed of on 18 September, which indicated that the non-disposal of the other bills was "a conscious act".
The petition of the Kerala government is yet to be listed before a bench.