The end of the currently ensuing tussle of power between Governors and state governments does not seem to be on the horizon. On December 1, while continuing hearing the petition filed by the Tamil Nadu government against its Governor RN Ravi, the Supreme Court was apprised by the counsel representing the state that the Governor has referred the ten re-adopted bills to the President. The aforementioned move by the Governor took place on November 28, senior advocate Dr. Abhishek Manu Singhvi informed the bench.
Responding to this, the Supreme Court questioned the decision of Tamil Nadu Governor Ravi to refer bills to the President, after declaring that he was withholding assent on them. The bench led by Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud, Justice JB Pardiwala and Justice Manoj Misra orally remarked that the Governor cannot refer the bills to the President after the Assembly has re-enacted the Bills following the Governor’s declaration of withholding the assent. The bench also observed that as per Article 200 of the Indian Constitution, the Governor has only three options – granting assent, withholding assent or referring to the President. After having exercised any of these prescribed options, he cannot then exercise another option.
Background of the case:
To provide a brief overview, the state government of Tamil Nadu had approached the Supreme Court accusing the State Governor R. N. Ravi of acting like a “political rival” rather than a constitutional functionary creating a “constitutional deadlock”. The accusation was around the inexplicable delay in giving assent to the Bills passed by the Legislature. The Governor has been “sitting on 12 bills”. During the Supreme Court hearing on November 10, the Supreme Court bench had expressed “serious concern” over the matter raised before it and had issued notice to the Union Government on the writ petition filed by the state of Tamil Nadu.
On November 13, Governor Ravi had declared that he was withholding assent on ten bills. Following that, on November 18, the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly convened a special session and re-enacted the very same bills. On November 20, the Supreme Court had questioned the Tamil Nadu Governor for keeping the bills pending for over three years.
New development by the governor- another blatant googly?
Senior Advocate Singhvi, appearing for the State of Tamil Nadu, expressed his deep anguish at the “new development” in the matter, wherein the Governor had moved away from the procedure prescribed under the Constitution and referred the re-adopted ten bills to the President. As per a report in LiveLaw, advocate Singhvi had bemoaned the conduct of the Governor and stated “This hits the Constitution.”
CJI Chandrachud had observed that the Governor cannot refer the bills to the President after he has exercised the option of withholding assent over them. As per the LiveLaw report, the CJI had addressing Attorney General for India R Venkataramani and orally remarked that “As per Article 200 of the Constitution, there are three options to the Governor – he can assent or withhold assent or he can reserve the bill for President. They are all alternatives. In this case, the Governor initially said I withhold assent. Once he withholds the assent, there is no question of him then reserving it for President. He can’t. He has to follow one of the three options – assent, withhold the assent or refer it to the President. So first and foremost, once he withholds the assent, then he can never say that now I am referring it to the President. Second, once he withholds the assent, he can’t kill the bill right there. He can’t stall the bill there. Once he withholds the assent, the proviso does not give him the fourth option.”
The AG responded to the CJI by stating that this was an “open question” that should be taken into consideration. As per LiveLaw, the AG further asserted that the Governor did not have to send the bill back to the Assembly when he withheld his consent.
Upon this argument, the CJI pointed that the issue being highlighted by the AG in the present case had already been resolved in the Punjab Governor’s case.
“Unlike the office of the Governor, a President holds an elected office. So a much wider power is given to the President. But a Governor as a nominee of the Union Government, must exercise one of the three options provided in Article 200,” CJI reiterated.
If the Governor need not return the bill to the assembly after withholding assent, then it would mean that he can “completely stultify the bill”, CJI also cautioned.
“Once the Assembly re-passes the bill, after the Governor withholds the assent, then you can’t say you are referring to the President. Because, last line of the proviso to Article 200 says “then shall not withhold the assent”, the CJI added as per Livelaw.
Upon this, the AG argued that the proviso to Article 200, which enables the Assembly to re-enact the bills, will come into operation only if the Governor is returning the Bill to the Assembly with a message. The aforementioned assertion of the AG was based on his argument that the Governor had withheld its assent but hadn’t returned the bills.
“According to you, the governor has an independent power of withholding the assent? We will consider that,” CJI said.
Listing the matter for December 11 for the next hearing, The CJI encouraged the AG to make sure that the impasse is handled at the Governor level rather than waiting for a court ruling. The AG was advised by CJI that the Governor should speak with the Chief Minister to address the matter.
“Mr Attorney, there are so many things which need to be resolved between the Governor and the CM. We would appreciate if the Governor sits with the CM and resolves this. I think it would be appropriate if the Governor invites the CM,” CJI told the AG, as per LiveLaw.