Why is it in the news?
- The Supreme Court recently ruled that the Governor of Tamil Nadu does not have discretion to withhold bills that have been re-passed by the State Legislative Assembly.
- The Bills were sent to the Governor’s office between January 2020 and April 2023, and the Governor had withheld assent until November 13.
- The Tamil Nadu Assembly convened a special session on November 18 to re-pass the Bills, and once re-passed, they are treated like Money Bills, and the Governor cannot reject them.
- The Court has cautioned Governors against indefinitely withholding assent, as it can undermine the federal structure and governance.
Process of granting assent
- The Constitution requires the Governor’s assent for a Bill passed by the legislature to become law.
- Article 200 of the Constitution provides four alternatives for the Governor when presented with a Bill: giving assent, withholding assent, returning the Bill for reconsideration, or reserving it for the President’s consideration.
- If the Governor withholds assent, they should return the Bill “as soon as possible” for reconsideration, but the Assembly is not obligated to accept the recommendations and can pass the Bill again in its original form.
- If the Bill is passed again, the Governor must either give assent or reserve it for the President’s consideration.
Reserving for the President’s consideration
- A Bill can be reserved for the President’s consideration if the Governor believes it would endanger the position of the concerned High Court by reducing its powers.
- There is no specific timeline prescribed for Governors to make a decision on a Bill, leading to potential delays and “pocket vetoes.”
- Similarly, there is no timeline for the President to decide on the outcome of a Bill.
- If the President refers a Bill back to the State Assembly, there is a six-month period for reconsideration.
Related Supreme Court Rulings
- Governors can act only on the “advice” of the Council of Ministers, with the Chief Minister as the head of the Council (Shamsher Singh v. State of Punjab, 1974).
- The Constitution framers did not intend for a Bill pending assent to lapse on the dissolution of the House (Purushothaman Nambudiri v. State of Kerala, 1962).
- Governors exercise discretion only regarding whether a Bill should be reserved for the President’s consideration (Nabam Rebia and Bamang Felix v. Dy. Speaker, 2016).
- The Sarkaria Commission recommended prior consultation with the Governor during the drafting of Bills and prescribed time limits for disposal to avoid delays.
- The National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution reiterated the need for time limits, suggesting a six-month limit for the Governor to give assent and three months for the President to decide on a reserved Bill.
|The SC judgment in response to a petition filed by the Punjab government against its Governor’s decision to hold back crucial bills
· The Supreme Court clarified that a Governor has the power to withhold assent to a bill passed by a State Legislature.
· However, if the Governor chooses to withhold assent, they must send the bill back to the State Legislature “as soon as possible” with a message for reconsideration.
· If the State Legislature reiterates the bill “with or without amendments,” the Governor has no discretion and must give assent to it.
· The message sent by the Governor to the Legislature does not bind the Legislature, and the ultimate decision on the bill rests with the Legislature alone.
· The Court emphasized that a Governor cannot simply withhold a bill without taking further action, as this would contravene the Constitution. Such an action by the Governor would be contrary to the principles of constitutional democracy and the parliamentary pattern of governance.
· The Court also highlighted that the expression “as soon as possible” in sending the bill back to the Legislature conveys a constitutional imperative of expedition.
· Failure to act promptly and keeping a bill passed by the Legislature in limbo for an indefinite period is inconsistent with this constitutional requirement.
· The Court’s decision reaffirms the Governor’s role as part of the legislature and their obligation to follow the constitutional regime in dealing with bills passed by the State Legislature.