Governor cannot cast doubt on validity of assembly session: SC
Says he cannot sit indefinitely over bills
New Delhi: “You are playing with fire,” the Supreme Court told the Punjab governor on Friday, as it held that being the titular head of the state he cannot cast doubt on the validity of an assembly session or withhold his decision indefinitely on bills passed by the House.
It said under Article 200 of the Constitution, when a bill is presented to the governor, he shall declare either that he assents to the bill or that he withholds assent therefrom or that he reserves the bill for the consideration of the President.
The top court, which pulled up the Punjab governor for “indefinitely sitting over” bills passed by the assembly saying “You are playing with fire”, also questioned the state government for repeatedly adjourning the Budget session sine die instead of proroguing it. It, however, upheld the Speaker’s supremacy in conducting the business of the House or adjourning its sessions.
“Our country has been running on established traditions and conventions and they need to be followed,” a bench of Chief Justice DY Chandrachud and Justices JB Pardiwala and Manoj Misra said.
The bench said “no other option” is available to the governor under Article 200 of the Constitution except for the actions stipulated for him under the provision on the bills presented to him.
The apex court made the observations on the Punjab government’s petition alleging delay by Governor Banwarilal Purohit in granting assent to several bills pending with him.
“Bearing in mind the well settled principles, we are of the view that there is no valid constitutional basis to cast doubt on the validity of the session of the Vidhan Sabha which was held on June 19-20, 2023. Any attempt to cast doubt on the session of the legislature would be fraught with grave perils to democracy,” the bench said.
It ruled that the state assembly speaker, who has been recognised as the guardian of the privileges of the House and the constitutionally recognised authority who represents the legislature, was acting well within his jurisdiction in adjourning it sine die.
It said the convening of the House on June 19-20, 2023 was within the ambit of Rule 16 of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in the Punjab Vidhan Sabha (Legislative Assembly).
“Casting doubt on the validity of the session of the House is not a constitutional option open to the governor. The legislative assembly comprises duly elected members of the legislature. During the tenure of the assembly, the House is governed by the decision taken by the speaker in matters of adjournment and prorogation.
“We are therefore of the view, the governor of Punjab must proceed to take a decision on the bills which have been submitted for assent on the basis that the sitting of the House, which was conducted on June 19-20, 2023 was constitutionally valid,” it said.
The bench, however, clarified that it has not expressed any opinion on the constitutional authority of the governor with regard to the manner in which he will exercise his jurisdiction though it should be consistent with the Article 200 of the Constitution.
“The petition is accordingly disposed of,” the court said.
During the hearing, the Punjab government alleged the governor has withheld assent to the bills pending with him as he has raised questions over the validity of the assembly session held on June 19-20, which the state government has said was an extension of the Budget session.
Senior advocate Satya Pal Jain, appearing for the office of the governor, said, “The governor has not granted his assent to the bills passed in the June 19-20 session of the House, as there was doubt over its constitutional validity. The real problem is they didn’t prorogue the session of the House but adjourned it sine die.
“The Budget session was held in March, then they held sessions on June 19-20 and on October 20-21 as an extension of the Budget session.”
Senior advocate Abhishek Singhvi conceded that the Budget session was adjourned sine die but said it was done because the governor had in February refused to call the Budget session and the state government had to knock at the doors of this court.
Singhvi, however, assured the bench that he will talk to Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann and request him to call the Winter session of the House at the earliest.
A state assembly normally has three sessions-Budget session, Monsoon session and Winter session. The Punjab assembly, however, has so far had only the Budget session and its extensions.
The bench said it must be noted that in parliamentary form of democracy, real power vests in the elected representatives of the people, and the governor is intended to be a statesman guiding the government on matters of constitutional concern.
“The Governor, as an appointee of the President, is the titular head of the state. The fundamental principle of constitutional law, which has been consistently followed in the years since the Constitution was adopted is that the Governor acts on the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers save and in respect to those areas where the Constitution has entrusted the exercise of discretionary powers to the Governor,” the bench said in the verdict dictated in the open court.
Referring to Rule 16 of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in the Punjab Vidhan Sabha, the bench said there can be no doubt that the provision empowers the House to adjourn from time to time, which can be sine die or to a particular date.
It said these provisions are clear indicators of the control of the Speaker in the conduct of both the business of the House and matters pertaining to its adjournment.
Governor Purohit is locked in a running feud with the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government led by Chief Minister Mann.
On November 1, Purohit gave his approval to two of the three bills sent to him, days after he wrote to Mann saying he will examine all proposed laws on their merit before allowing them to be tabled in the assembly.
The governor’s approval is needed to table money bills in the House.
Purohit has approved the Punjab Goods and Services Tax (Amendment) Bill, 2023 and the Indian Stamp (Punjab Amendment) Bill, 2023.
Four other bills — the Sikh Gurdwaras (Amendment) Bill, 2023, the Punjab Universities Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2023, the Punjab Police (Amendment) Bill, 2023 and the Punjab Affiliated Colleges (Security of Service) Amendment Bill, 2023 — are awaiting the governor’s assent.
These bills were passed during the June 19-20 session of the Punjab Assembly. The governor had termed such an extended session as “patently illegal”.