SC advises Kerala governor’s secy to refer to verdict on non-grant of assent to bills

The Supreme Court on Friday asked the additional chief secretary of Kerala Governor Arif Mohammed Khan, against whom the state government filed a plea alleging non-grant of assent to bills passed by assembly, to refer to its recent verdict in Punjab’s case where it was held governors cannot “thwart the normal course of lawmaking”.

While deciding on the Punjab government’s plea against Governor Banwarilal Purohit, the top court, on Thursday, had held that governors cannot be at liberty to keep bills pending indefinitely without any action.

The verdict said if the governor decides to withhold assent to a bill, then he has to return the bill to the legislature for reconsideration.

It also said that the unelected “Head of the State” is entrusted with constitutional powers but that cannot be used to thwart the normal course of lawmaking by state legislatures.

On Friday, a bench comprising Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud and justices J B Pardiwala and Manoj Misra was hearing the plea of the Kerala government accusing the governor of not granting assent to several bills cleared by the assembly.

The top court, which earlier issued notices to the Centre and the Kerala governor’s additional chief secretary on the plea, adjourned to November 28 the hearing on the plea of the state government.

“We uploaded the order in the Punjab matter last night. Ask the governor’s additional chief secretary to refer to it,” the CJI said.

Senior advocate and former Attorney General K K Venugopal, appearing for the state government, said, “All the ministers have met him (governor). The chief minister has met him several times.” He said eight bills are pending assent.

Besides the Centre and the office of the governor, the top court had also issued a notice to Attorney General R Venkataramani, seeking assistance from him or Solicitor General Tushar Mehta in the matter.

“This is an endemic situation. The governors do not realise that they are part of the legislature under Article 168 of the Constitution,” Venugopal had said.

Venugopal had said copies of the petition have been served to the offices of the attorney general and solicitor general.

He had said the governor is also a part of the legislature under Article 168 and eight bills are pending his assent.

The bench did not issue a notice to Khan and instead, sought the response of the additional chief secretary to the governor and the Centre on the plea.

“Mr Venugopal submits that 1) The governor is a part of the legislature under Article 168, 2) The governor had promulgated three ordinances which were later converted into those passed by the legislature, 3) As many as eight bills are pending consideration for assent ranging from seven to 21 months,” the bench said in its order.

The Kerala government has claimed that the governor is delaying the consideration of the eight bills by withholding his assent and this is “defeating the rights of the people”.

It has claimed inaction on the governor’s part in relation to the eight bills passed by the state legislature and said many of these proposed legislations involve immense public interest and provide for welfare measures that would stand deprived and denied to the people of the state to the extent of the delay.

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“The petitioner — state of Kerala — in fulfilment of its parens patriae obligation to its people, seeks appropriate orders from this court in relation to the inaction on the part of the governor of the state in relation to as many as eight bills passed by the state legislature and presented to the governor for his assent under Article 200 of the Constitution.

“Of these, three bills have remained pending with the governor for more than two years and three more in excess of a full year. The conduct of the governor, as would presently be demonstrated, threatens to defeat and subvert the very fundamentals and basic foundations of our Constitution, including the rule of law and democratic good governance, apart from defeating the rights of the people of the state to the welfare measures sought to be implemented through the bills,” the plea says.

The government has contended that grave injustice is being done to the people of the state as also to its representative democratic institutions by the governor by keeping the bills pending for long periods of time, including three for more 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,” it has submitted.

The plea says the governor’s conduct in keeping the bills pending for long and indefinite periods of time is also manifestly arbitrary and violates Article 14 of the Constitution.

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