From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Article 32, Legislative Powers of Governor
Mains level : State vs . Governor Row
- The Tamil Nadu state government has taken its concerns to the Supreme Court regarding the prolonged delay in the approval of Bills and Government orders by the Governor.
TN Petition to the Supreme Court
- Constitutional Challenge: The TN government has filed a Writ Petition under Article 32 of the Constitution of India.
- Objective: The petition seeks a declaration that the Governor’s inaction, omission, and delay in assenting to Bills and considering Government orders forwarded by the Tamil Nadu State Legislature is unconstitutional, illegal, arbitrary, unreasonable, and a misuse of power.
- Impact on Administration: The Governor’s delay in signing remission orders, day-to-day files, appointment orders, and granting approvals for prosecution is causing severe disruptions in the state administration.
Article 32 of Indian Constitution
What are the Discretionary Powers of the Governor?
The Constitution makes it clear that if any question arises whether a matter falls within the governor’s discretion or not, the decision of the governor is final and the validity of anything done by him cannot be called in question on the ground that he ought or ought not to have acted in his discretion.
- Reservation of a bill for the consideration of the President (Article 200).
- Recommendation for the imposition of the President’s Rule (Article 356) in the state.
- While exercising his functions as the administrator of an adjoining union territory (in case of additional charge).
- Determining the amount payable by the Government of Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram to an autonomous Tribal District Council as royalty accruing from licenses for mineral exploration.
- Seeking information from the chief minister with regard to the administrative and legislative matters of the state.
- Appointment of chief minister when no party has a clear-cut majority in the state legislative assembly or when the chief minister in office dies suddenly and there is no obvious successor.
- Dismissal of the council of ministers when it cannot prove the confidence of the state legislative assembly.
- Dissolution of the state legislative assembly if the council of ministers has lost its majority.
Can the Governor withhold His Assent to a Bill in Exercise of His Discretionary Powers?
- While a plain reading of Article 200 suggests that the Governor can withhold his assent, experts question whether he can do so only on the advice of the Council of Ministers.
- The Constitution provides that the Governor can exercise his executive powers only on the advice of the Council of Ministers under Article 154.
- The larger question is why a Governor should be allowed to withhold assent when the Bill is passed by the Assembly.
Rationale behind Governor’s Power
- Checks and Balances: Delay in approval allows the Governor to scrutinize bills and orders more thoroughly, ensuring that they are in line with the constitution and the interests of the state.
- Prevention of Hasty Decisions: It prevents hasty or ill-considered legislation from being passed, which might have unintended negative consequences.
- Protection of Minority Rights: The Governor can act as a safeguard against the majority’s potentially oppressive decisions, protecting the rights and interests of minority groups.
- Aid to Parliamentary Democracy: The delay provides time for public debate, expert opinions, and stakeholder consultations, which are essential aspects of parliamentary democracy.
- Conflict Resolution: In situations where there are disputes between the state government and the center or between various state institutions, the Governor’s involvement can facilitate resolution.
Issues with the delays
- Delay in Decision-Making: The Governor’s failure to take a decision on the Bills passed by the legislature leads to a delay in decision-making, which affects the effective functioning of the state government.
- Delay in Implementation of Policies and Laws: When the Governor fails to make a decision on a Bill passed by the assembly, it delays the implementation of policies and laws.
- Undermines the Democratic Process: The Governor, who is appointed by the Centre, can use his powers to delay or reject Bills passed by state assemblies for political reasons, which undermines the democratic process.
- Public Perception: The public often views pending Bills with the Governor as a sign of inefficiency or even corruption in the state government, which can damage the government’s reputation.
- Constitutional Ambiguity: There is ambiguity in the Constitution regarding the Governor’s power to withhold assent.
- Lack of Accountability: When the Governor withholds assent, he does not provide any reason for his decision.
Recent Instances of Withholding Assent
- Chhattisgarh (2020): The Chhattisgarh Governor withheld assent to a bill amending the Chhattisgarh Lokayukta Act, 2001.
- Tamil Nadu (2021): The Tamil Nadu Governor reserved a bill exempting state students from NEET medical entrance exams for the President’s consideration after a significant delay.
- Kerala (2023): Kerala’s Governor signed five bills into law but withheld assent to six others, citing concerns about their constitutionality and legality.
Mains Marks Enhancer: Supreme Court’s Stance and Commission Recommendations
- Nabam Rebia and Bamang Felix vs Dy.Speaker (2016): The SC clarified that a Governor’s discretion under Article 200 is limited to deciding whether a bill should be reserved for the President’s consideration. The Court emphasized that actions or inactions by the Governor regarding bill assent can be subject to judicial review.
- Punchhi Commission (2010): This commission recommended the establishment of a time limit within which the Governor should decide on granting assent or reserving a bill for the President’s consideration.
- National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution (NCRWC): NCRWC proposed a four-month time limit for the Governor to decide on a bill’s fate. It also suggested the removal of the Governor’s power to withhold assent except in cases explicitly stipulated in the Constitution.
- The dispute between the government and the Governor underscores the importance of timely decision-making to ensure the effective functioning of the state administration.