SC questions delay by TN Guv in granting assent to Bills, “What was Governor doing for 3 years?”

PTI, Nov 20, 2023, 8:42 PM IST

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday questioned the delay on the part of Tamil Nadu Governor R N Ravi in granting assent to several Bills passed by the state Assembly, asking as to why should governors wait for parties to move the top court with their grievances.

Posing tough questions, a bench headed by Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud asked what was the governor doing for three years, noting that the Bills were pending since January 2020.

Observing that the issue was whether there was a delay in the discharge of the constitutional functions entrusted to the office of the governors, the court also said it would deal with the question whether a governor can sit over the Bills without sending them either back to the Assembly or to the President.

The top court made the observations as it deferred the hearing on the Tamil Nadu government’s plea alleging delay by Governor Ravi to December 1 after Attorney General R Venkataramani, appearing for the Office of the Governor, sought a postponement.

The court, while adjourning the hearing, took note of the fact that the TN Assembly has re-adopted 10 Bills returned by the governor.

“Let us await the decision of the governor (on re-adopted) Bills,” said the bench also comprising Justice J B Pardiwala and Justice Manoj Misra.

The top court, meanwhile, also sought responses from the Centre and the office of Kerala Governor Arif Mohammed Khan on a separate plea of the Kerala government accusing him of not granting assent to several Bills cleared by the legislative assembly.

While hearing the plea of the TN government, the bench took note of the fact that Governor Ravi responded by saying that he was withholding his assent on ten Bills after the top court issued notices on November 10.

“Mr Attorney(Venkataramani), 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,” the bench asked.

The top most law officer said there were some “intricate” and “delicate” issues with some Bills as they seek to take away certain powers of the governor.

Venkataramani gave the example of a bill where the power of the governor with regard to appointment of Vice Chancellors in state-run universities was proposed to be taken away by the government.

“Since it is an important issue, some reconsideration is required,” he said.

The bench in its order noted the details related to 10 Bills including the dates of their clearance in the legislative assembly and their pendency with the office of the governor and said the oldest one was sent for gubernatorial assent way back in January 2020.

The bench was responding to the submissions of the AG that Ravi had taken charge on November 18, 2021, and all sorts of delays cannot be attributed to the present governor as there were many “intricate issues” involved with many Bills.

Observing that the concern was not related to the conduct of any particular governor, the bench said, ”The issue is not whether any particular governor delayed but whether in general there has been a delay in exercising Constitutional functions.” Senior advocates Mukul Rohatgi and Abhisehk Singhvi, who appeared for the TN government, said the governor was acting in breach of the constitutional schemes and this led to a situation, where the assembly has “re-passed” ten out of 15 Bills.

The governor cannot simply withhold assent without providing any reason and that the Constitution required him to give a note for reconsideration, Singhvi said.

The bench then referred to Article 200 of the Constitution and the powers of the governors with regard to Bills passed by state assemblies and asked whether the governor can sit over them without sending it either back to the Assembly or to the President.

”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,” the bench asked.

The counsel for the state government said 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,” Singhvi asked.

The bench then queried whether the governor can send the Bill to the President after it has been re-passed by the legislative assembly.

Such a course is not open to the governor after the Bill has been passed again, the court was told.

The bench recorded that the Governor’s office received 181 Bills, and he assented to 152 Bills while five 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, the order said.

The TN Assembly re-adopted 10 Bills in a special sitting on Saturday, days after they were returned by Governor Ravi.

The Bills related to different departments including law, agriculture and higher education were passed in the wake of the governor returning those on November 13. The re-adopted Bills were later sent to the governor for his assent.

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