Governor can’t sit on bills on withholding assent, must return them, rules Supreme Court

The order said the substantive part of Article 200 empowers the Governor to withhold assent.
Supreme Court. (File photo | PTI)
Supreme Court. (File photo | PTI)

NEW DELHI:  Asserting that the constitutional powers of the Governor cannot be used to thwart the normal course of lawmaking by the state legislatures, the Supreme Court said if the unelected head of the state decides to withhold assent to a Bill, it must be returned to the legislature for reconsideration.

“If the Governor decides to withhold assent under the substantive part of Article 200, the logical course of action is to pursue the course indicated in the first proviso of remitting the Bill to the state legislature for reconsideration,” a three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud said.

Part of the 27-page judgment authored by CJI Chandrachud on the Punjab government’s plea against Governor Banwarilal Purohit, applies to Tamil Nadu as well, as its Governor R N Ravi withheld assent to 10 bills recently but did not send them back to the Assembly, assuming as he did that the legislations were dead. The process of withdrawing assent was a legal gray area till now.

The order said the substantive part of Article 200 empowers the Governor to withhold assent. “In such an event, the Governor must mandatorily follow the course of action which is indicated in the first proviso of communicating to the State Legislature “as soon as possible” a message warranting the reconsideration of the Bill. The expression “as soon as possible” is significant.

It conveys a constitutional imperative of expedition. Failure to take a call and keeping a Bill duly passed for indeterminate periods is a course of action inconsistent with that expression, the order said. “The concluding part of the first proviso stipulates that if the Bill is passed again by the legislature either with or without amendments, the Governor shall not withhold assent therefrom upon presentation.

The concluding phrase “shall not withhold assent therefrom” is a clear indicator that the exercise of the power under the first proviso is relatable to the withholding of the assent by the Governor to the Bill in the first instance,” the verdict said. In other words, the bills resent to the TN Governor by the House after passing them again will have to be approved by him.

Can’t be kept pending indefinitely, says court
“The Governor cannot be at liberty to keep the Bill pending indefinitely without any action whatsoever,” the order said

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