Governors need to rise above politics
How soon is “as soon as possible”? Most opposition-ruled states are grappling for an answer to the question as their governors sit indefinitely on bills passed by the state legislatures.
In April, the Supreme Court urged governors to mind the mandate under Article 200 of the Constitution for clearing bills “as soon as possible”. It was an observation in a case brought by the Telangana government. While disposing of the state’s plea on the ground that there were no bills pending, the court told the KCR-led government to “come back later if such a situation arises”.
Tamil Nadu, Punjab, and Kerala have now knocked on the court’s door with petitions against their respective governors over a bunch of bills that have been awaiting gubernatorial assent for long.
Kerala has argued that the governor “subverted the Constitution” and acted in an arbitrary manner by keeping bills on hold for an indefinite period. It also sought the Supreme Court’s direction that the governor was bound to dispose of every bill presented within a reasonable time. TN has urged the court to declare the “inaction, omission, delay and failure to comply with the constitutional mandate” as not in the spirit of the law. It moved the court against the governor for creating a “constitutional deadlock” by failing to give assent for crucial bills and stymieing day-to-day governance. It blamed the governor of positioning himself as a rival to the legitimately elected government. These are indeed serious complaints. Approaching the court may have helped Telangana and Punjab, as their governors swung into action almost immediately after their moves.
The Constitution gives governors four options: give assent to the bill, withhold assent, reserve the bill for consideration by the president, or return the bill for reconsideration by the state legislature. Once a bill is returned and submitted again to the governor for assent, it is mandatory to grant assent. Can the governor exercise any discretion? It is true that Article 200 does not lay down a specific timeframe, but a constitutional authority should not circumvent a provision of the Constitution by taking advantage of an omission. It is sad that most opposition-ruled states are at loggerheads with their governors, who regularly bring governance to a halt in the name of ensuring constitutional integrity. The governor is the Centre’s nominee as the constitutional head of a state and should be above politics.