Kerala Goes To Supreme Court Against President Withholding Assent To Bills

Kerala Goes To Supreme Court Against President Withholding Assent To Bills

New Delhi:

In an unusual move, the Kerala government has petitioned the Supreme Court against President Droupadi Murmu withholding assent to four bills passed by the state assembly.

The plea, filed through advocate CK Sasi, said the matter relates to the acts of the Kerala governor in reserving seven bills, which he was required to deal with himself, to the President. Not one of the seven bills had anything to do with Centre-state relations.

The state government said these bills had been pending with the governor for as long as about two years and his action “subverted” the functioning of the state legislature, rendering its very existence “ineffective and otiose”.

“The bills include public interest bills which are for the public good, and even these have been rendered ineffective by the Governor not dealing with each one of them “as soon as possible” as required by the proviso to Article 200,” the plea said.

The state government said that on February 23 and 29, the Ministry of Home Affairs informed it that the president has withheld assent to four of the seven bills–University Laws (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill, 2021, the Kerala Co-operative Societies (Amendment) Bill, 2022, the University Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2022, and the University Laws (Amendment) (No. 3) Bill, 2022.

The petition urged the court to declare as unconstitutional the president not granting assent to these bills without assigning a reason.

The Constitution is silent on how much time the president can take in granting assent to a bill passed by a state legislature and referred to the Rashtrapati Bhavan for presidential consideration or for denying consent.

The CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) government has made the Union government, the Secretary to the President of India, Kerala Governor Arif Mohammad Khan and his additional secretary the parties to the case.

Article 361 of the Constitution says the president, or the governor of a state shall not be answerable to any court for the exercise and performance of the powers and duties of his office or for any act done or purporting to be done by him in the exercise and performance of those powers and duties.

Besides several other reliefs, the state government has urged the court to declare as “illegal” Governor Arif Mohammed Khan reserving a total of seven bills, including these four, for the consideration of the president.

“The conduct of the Governor in keeping Bills pending for long and indefinite periods of time, and thereafter reserving the Bills for the consideration of the President without any reasons relatable to the Constitution is manifestly arbitrary and violates Article 14 (equality before law) of the Constitution,” the plea said.

Equally, it added, the aid and advice tendered by the Union of India to the president to withhold assent to the four bills, which are wholly within the domain of the state, while disclosing no reason whatsoever, is also manifestly arbitrary and violates Article 14.

“Additionally, the actions impugned defeat the rights of the people of the State of Kerala under Article 21 (protection of life and personal liberty) of the Constitution, by denying them the benefits of welfare legislation enacted by the State Assembly,” it said.

The plea said not dealing with the bills presented for assent for periods as long as 24 months, or seven months to sixteen months, the governor has rendered ineffective and otiose the functioning of a limb of the State under the Constitution, the legislative assembly. “The very existence of the legislative assembly of the State has been rendered meaningless by the Governor, though the Governor is a part of the Legislative Assembly,” it said.

The actions of the governor are clearly lacking in bona fides and in good faith, it said. “The actions of the Governor subvert the delicate balance envisaged by the Constitution between the three organs of State, by rendering the functioning of the elected executive, which has drafted and introduced the Bills, and then the State legislature, which has passed the Bills, wholly ineffective and otiose. The actions of the Governor also subvert the federal structure of the Constitution, by reserving for the President (acting on the aid and advice of the Union Cabinet) Bills which are wholly within the domain of the State under the Constitution,” it said.

The plea said the governor has often been addressing the media and making public criticism of the state government and the chief minister in particular.

“Whether the reservation for the President is as a result of this (criticism) or not, to refer Bills which have been pending before the Governor for as long as two years to the President is a grave injustice to the post that the Governor holds and to his constitutional duties as well. One can only say that at no cost was the Governor prepared to allow the Government of Kerala and the State legislative assembly to function in accordance with the Constitution and the laws,” it added.

The state government said the governor carried out what was his constitutional duty only after it had approached the top court last year by granting assent to one bill, while referring the rest of the seven bills to the president on November 28, 2023.

It said, the president has thereafter withheld assent to four of these bills.

“The actions of the Union Government, in advising the President of India to withhold assent to Bills which had been passed by the state legislative assembly as long as 11-24 months back, and which were wholly within the domain of the state government, subverts and disrupts the federal structure of the Constitution of India, and is a grave encroachment into the domain entrusted to the state under the Constitution,” it said.

While the Constitution is silent about when the president should give or deny assent to a bill, Article 200 says: When a Bill has been passed by the Legislative Assembly of a State or, in the case of a State having a Legislative Council, has been passed by both Houses of the Legislature of the State, it shall be presented to the Governor and the Governor 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.

“Provided that the Governor may, as soon as possible after the presentation to him of the Bill for assent, return the Bill if it is not a Money Bill together with a message requesting that the House or Houses will reconsider the Bill or any specified provisions thereof and, in particular, will consider the desirability of introducing any such amendments as he may recommend in his message and, when a Bill is so returned, the House or Houses shall reconsider the Bill accordingly, and 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 assent therefrom,” it says.

“Provided further that the Governor shall not assent to, but shall reserve for the consideration of the President, any Bill which in the opinion of the Governor would, if it became law, so derogate from the powers of the High Court as to endanger the position which that Court is by this Constitution designed to fill,” it adds.

The apex court had in December 2023 questioned the delay on the part of Tamil Nadu governor R N Ravi in disposing of the bills submitted for his assent since January 2020, asking why should state governors wait for parties to move the top court with their grievances.

Like Kerala governor Khan and Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, Ravi has had frequent run-ins with Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M K Stalin.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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