The Supreme Court of India on Monday expressed concern over the growing trend of Governors delaying their assent to bills passed by the State legislature. The Court urged Governors to act on bills before they reach the Court, calling it “unacceptable” for them to wait for Court intervention before granting assent.
The Court made these observations while hearing a plea by the State of Punjab challenging the delay by Governor Banwarilal Purohit in giving assent to seven bills passed by the State Assembly. The Punjab Governor has granted assent only to 22 of the 27 bills passed by the Punjab Legislative Assembly during the tenure of the incumbent government led by Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).
The Court also noted that the Punjab Legislative Assembly was adjourned sine die on March 22, 2023 without being prorouged and was reconvened three months later. It questioned whether this was Constitutional and remarked that the Chief Minister and Governor of Punjab required some “soul searching”.
The Court further observed that Governors are not elected representatives and must know that they cannot hold back bills in this manner. It stated that Governors can withhold assent and send a bill back once, but cannot delay it indefinitely.
The Court listed the matter for further hearing on Friday, November 10, and directed the Solicitor General to file a status report on the action taken by the Governor on the pending bills.
The Supreme Court’s observations come in the wake of a series of similar cases in recent months. In April, the Court had taken note that Governors were delaying their assent to bills passed by the State legislature and had urged them to keep in mind the mandate under Article 200 of the Constitution which casts a duty on them to clear bills “as soon as possible”.
The State of Telangana had also moved the apex court earlier seeking directions to the State’s Governor Tamilisai Soundararajan to give her assent to ten key bills passed by the State legislature. Similar pleas by States of Tamil Nadu and Kerala are also pending before the apex court.
The Supreme Court’s observations are a significant step towards upholding the constitutional principles of federalism and separation of powers. Governors have a constitutional duty to act in accordance with the advice of the Council of Ministers, and they cannot delay their assent to bills passed by the State legislature indefinitely. The Court’s intervention in these cases is a necessary check on the abuse of power by Governors.