Role of the Governor

Role of the Governor

This article covers “Daily Current Affairs” and the topic details “Role of the Governor in Granting Assent to Bills Passed by the Assembly.’ This topic has relevance in the Polity and Governance section of the UPSC CSE exam.

Why in the news?
Recently, there has been friction between the Governors and the State Governments of several states. This is due to withholding assent to bills passed by state assemblies for several months and years without providing any reason for doing so.

Current Criticism of Governor’s Role

  • In 2020, the Tamilnadu Government passed 12 bills, most of which were related to the appointment of a vice-chancellor of the University by the State Government instate of the governor. The Governor kept them on hold or reserved them for pending for more than 3 years. When the Tamilnadu Government reached the Supreme Court regarding the long pending of these bills, the Court asked the Governor to take immediate action. The Governor returned 10 bills and is still holding 2 bills. Just after that, the Tamilnadu Government called a special session to adopt them again.
  • Chief Minister Stalin criticized this act of the governor as unconstitutional, anti-people, and against the sovereignty of the state assembly. It is not an isolated incident. Earlier, in February 2023, the Governor of Kerala approved and enacted into law five bills endorsed by the Assembly. However, the Governor chose to withhold assent for the remaining six bills, which encompassed legislative proposals such as the Kerala Lokayukta (Amendment) Bill and the Kerala University (Amendment) Bill. The governor was accused of delaying the passage of some bills for up to 26 months.
  • The Supreme Court expressed displeasure over similar delays by the Governors of Telangana and Punjab. The court has expressed ‘serious concern’ over inaction by the Governor on Bills presented for his assent

Constitutional Provisions for the Office of Governor:

  • Article 153 mandates the appointment of a Governor for each state, allowing one individual to serve as Governor for multiple states. The President appoints the Governor, who serves as a nominee of the Central Government.
  • The Governor functions as the constitutional head of the state and is obligated to follow the advice of the Council of Ministers (CoM). Article 163 of the Indian Constitution establishes a Council of Ministers, headed by the Chief Minister, to assist and advise the Governor in performing their functions.
  • While the Governor is generally bound by the advice of the Council of Ministers, certain conditions allow for the exercise of discretion.

Legislative Constitutional Provisions:

Article 200 of the Constitution stipulates that when a Bill, passed by a State Legislature, is presented to the Governor for their assent, they have four alternatives —

  • (i) may give assent to the Bill;
  • (ii) may return the Bill (if it is not a Money Bill) for reconsideration by the State Legislature; if the Bill is passed again by the House or Houses, with or without amendment, and presented to the Governor for assent, the Governor shall not withhold his assent.
  • (iii) may withhold assent to the Bill, rejecting it, in which case the Bill fails to become law;
  • (iv) may reserve the Bill for the consideration of the President.

The provision to Article 200, which makes the Governor’s assent mandatory for Bills passed a second time, does not apply to Bills for which assent has been ‘withheld,’ a term that essentially means ‘rejected.

Scope of Discretionary Powers of the Governor:

According to the opinion tendered by the Supreme Court of India, the Governor is required to act as per the advice of the Council of Ministers. He does not exercise his discretionary powers while withholding assent or returning a Bill to the State Legislature.

Situation of ‘Withholding Assent’:

(i) In the case of a Private Members’ Bill (any Member of the State Legislature other than a Minister): If such a bill has passed the State Legislature but the council of ministers does not want it to be enacted into law, they would advise the Governor to ‘withhold assent.’

This situation rarely occurs because the Council of Ministers enjoys a majority in the Legislative Assembly. If the CoM does not want to pass such a bill, it can easily defeat the passage of a private member’s bill.

(ii) In the case of the fall of the government: If the incumbent government, whose Bill has been passed by the legislature, falls or resigns before it is assented to by the Governor, the new council may advise the Governor to ‘withhold assent.’

Situation for Returning Bills:

(i) On the recommendation of the CoM: The Governor can return any Bill to the State Legislature for reconsideration based on the advice of the council of ministers, which wants to amend or improve some of the controversial provisions of the bill. This may occur if the opposition is putting more pressure on the government or mass protests are observed due to the effects of the bill’s provisions on a particular section of society.

(ii) For encroachment over constitutional rights: The Governor may also return a bill for reconsideration by the state’s assembly if some provisions of the bill are affecting the basic rights of the people. This may also happen when questions arise regarding the legal validity of such acts.

However, Governors in the past have exercised their discretion in returning Bills, like the Tamil Nadu Governor with respect to the Bill prohibiting online gambling. But the Governor shall assent to such a Bill if it is passed again by the State Legislature.

Situation for Reserving Bills:

  • The Governor must reserve certain Bills, like those that reduce the powers of the High Court, for the consideration of the President.
  • He may also reserve Bills on concurrent lists that are repugnant to a Union law based on ministerial advice.
  • It is only under rare circumstances that the Governor may exercise his discretion, where they feel that the provisions of the Bill will contravene the Constitution and therefore should be reserved for the consideration of the President.
  • In the Shamsher Singh case, the Court established that the Governor’s power to reserve bills for the President’s consideration constitutes an instance of discretionary authority.

Time Limit for Governor’s Action on Bills:

The Constitution does not lay down any time limit within which the Governor is required to make a decision. The absence of a time limit in Articles 200 and 201 indicates the framers’ intention to safeguard bills awaiting the Governor’s assent from lapsing. The Supreme Court’s decision in the Purushothaman Nambudiri case clarified that a bill pending the Governor’s assent does not lapse upon the dissolution of the House.

What were the recommendations of different commissions?

The Sarkaria Commission (1987) recommended that the Governor must discharge his functions under Article 200 as per the advice of ministers. It is only the reservation of Bills for the consideration of the President, and that too under rare cases of unconstitutionality, that can be implied as a discretionary power of the Governor. It further recommended that the President should dispose of such Bills within a maximum period of six months. In the event of the President ‘withholding assent,’ the reasons should be communicated to the State Government wherever possible.

The Punchhi Commission (2010) had recommended that the Governor should take a decision with respect to a Bill presented for their assent within a period of six months. However, these recommendations have not been implemented to date.

Source: The role of the Governor in the legislature | Explained – The Hindu

Q1. In which of the following cases is the governor bound to give his assent to a bill passed by the state assembly?
(a) Money bill
(b) Private member’s bill
(c) Prime minister has resigned from his office
(d) Bill is again passed by the House or Houses with or without amendment
(e) State assembly has passed a unanimous resolution in support of the pending bill
Which of the statements given above is/are correct?
(a) 1 and 2 only
(b) 2, 4, and 5 only
(c) 1 and 4 only
(d) 1, 3, 4, and 5 only

Answer: (c)

Q.2 Critically analyse the constitutional control over pending bills passed by state assemblies awaiting the governor’s assent and explore the discretionary role of governors in the states.

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