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DC Edit | Time to lay down norm, define role of governor


Published on: April 11, 2023 | Updated on: April 11, 2023

Governor RN Ravi. (ANI Image)

The resolution the Tamil Nadu Assembly passed on Monday urging the Union government and the President to "immediately issue appropriate instructions to the governor to provide assent to the bills passed by the Assembly within a specific time period" reflects the urgency of an issue that plagues democratic governance in many states in the country.

A plain reading of Article 200 of the Constitution which outlines the governor’s powers regarding signing bills into law is sufficient to clarify doubts on the topic. It gives the governor three options — one, to give assent; two, to withhold assent; and three, to send the bill to the President on certain matters. If they choose to withhold assent, the Constitution mandates the bill be sent back to the legislature with the governor’s comments. Once it is passed again, the governor "shall not withhold his assent".

Governors in some states, especially those ruled by political formations opposed to the one at the Centre, however, rely on the silence of the Constitution on the period for which the governor ponders a decision and sit on bills for ages. Tamil Nadu governor R.N. Ravi has gone to the extent of declaring that "withholding assent" to a bill is "decent language" for "reject[ing]" a bill. He even explained to a group of civil service aspirants last week that a withheld bill is "dead" bill.

It is true that the wording in the Constitution in several Articles, including those which are related to governorship, is taken from the Government of India Act, 1935, and hence some governors believe that their powers are akin to those of the governors under the Raj. They conveniently forget the fact that this nation witnessed historic events between 1935 and 1949, which include the adoption of a Constitution which declared India that is Bharat to be a democratic republic whose citizens will elect their rulers. Therein, the governor’s role has been reduced to that of a figurehead.

The Supreme Court and the high courts, vested with the power to interpret the Constitution, have time and again laid emphasis on Article 163, which insisted on the supremacy of the council of ministers and ruled that the governor shall go by its aid and advice. The lawmaking powers of the state legislatures have also been elaborated upon in several articles. Contrary to the Tamil Nadu governor’s understanding, there is no constitutional provision which envisages a bill to be "rejected" or "killed" by the governor as an appointed person cannot have a veto on the law-making powers of the legislature; the courts will decide on the constitutionality of the laws.

The Telangana government last month approached the Supreme Court with a petition seeking to declare the delay by the governor to give his assent to a bill as illegal, irregular, and unconstitutional while the Kerala government is contemplating moving the court against the arbitrary nature of its governor sitting on bills for long. It is important that the Union government, the President, the Supreme Court or Parliament make the point clear at the earliest so that the powers of the state legislatures as envisaged in the Constitution are not compromised and states are governed as per the spirit of the Constitution.