Veto Powers of the President of India – Comprehensive Notes

 Note4Students

One of the most important topics specially from the Prelims perspective. Each and every minute detail and concept becomes very important for the exam. We have tried our bit to make it as interesting as possible.

The power of Veto refers to the power of the executive to override any act of the legislature. This is a very special privilege. Veto power can of the following types –

  1. Absolute Veto – Withholding of assent to the Bill passed by the legislature.
  2. Qualified Veto – Which can be overridden by the legislature with a higher majority.
  3. Suspensive Veto – Which can be overridden by the legislature with an ordinary majority.
  4. Pocket Veto – Taking no action on the Bill passed by the legislature.

 

Article 111 in India’s Constitution governs the Veto powers of the President. It states that “When a Bill has been passed by the Houses of Parliament, it shall be presented to the President, and the President shall declare

either that he assents to the Bill, or

that he withholds assent therefrom

The subsequent provision moderates this discretion: The President may return the Bill “as soon as possible” to the Houses with a message to reconsider it.

However, if the Houses enact the Bill with or without amendments and present it to the President for assent, “the President shall not withhold assent therefrom”

The following observations can be made –

  1. President may return the Bill to the Houses seeking reconsideration. This is some sense is a public statement that the President disagrees with the preferences of the two Houses.
  2. Article 111 sets no definite timeline. The President can withhold assent. In case he decides to return the Bill, the provision nudges him or her to do so “as soon as possible”
  3. It is clearly stated that if a Bill is returned to the President for the 2nd time, the President “shall not withhold assent therefrom”.

For a Bill to become an Act, the President must affirmatively assent. That naturally raises the possibility of “death” and not just delay by Presidential inaction. Unlike the US President, the Indian President can sit on a Bill indefinitely.

From the above discussion, it can be concluded that the President has Suspensive Veto, Pocket Veto and Absolute Veto(not discretionary). He/she does not have Qualified Veto.

 

The table below highlights the Veto power available vizaviz the types of Bills.

Suspensive Pocket Absolute
Ordinary Bill(OB) Yes Yes Available regardless of the Bill but *not* a discretionary power. Usually exercized in the following cases

a) Private Members’ Bills

b) Government Bills when the Cabinet resigns (after the passage of the Bills but before the assent by the President) and the new Cabinet advises the President not to give his assent to such Bills

Money Bill

(Art 110)

No Yes
Financial

Bills

Yes Yes
Constitutional Amendment Bill No No

It should be noted here that the President has no veto power in respect of a Constitutional Amendment Bill. The 24th Constitutional Amendment Act of 1971 made it obligatory for the President to give his assent to a Constitutional Amendment Bill.

 

Controversies

Sharp disagreements erupted specially on the issue of whether the President could veto legislation passed by the Parliament.

1950 – Rajendra Prasad, India’s first President, wrote to Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, questioning elements of the Bihar Zamindari Abolition Bill. He believed the compensation was inadequate for those whose lands effectively stood nationalised. Nehru’s Cabinet reconsidered the Bill and found the provisions to be fair. Nehru threatened to resign and that’s when Rajendra Prasad gave in.  

1951 –  When Nehru sought to reform Hindu family law by legislation, Rajendra Prasad expressed his reservations. Prime Minister wrote to the President arguing that the latter had no “authority to go against the will of Parliament”. Nehru read Article 111 as a “routine” provision; the President was to rubber-stamp his assent on Bills without applying his mind. And he lined up a battery of lawyers to make the same point on his behalf

1987 – Indian Post Office (Amendment) Bill 1986 which among other things gave the executive extensive powers to intercept personal communication. The provisions of the Bill, he felt, violated the right to privacy. He sat on it. On two occasions, he informally suggested certain changes to it.  When nothing came of those efforts, he simply sat on the matter indefinitely. The President killed the Bill by sheer inaction

2006 – This was the first time a Bill was vetoed(suspensive veto) and formally returned. Office of Profit Bill, 2006 was passed by the Parliament. It enacted a self-serving piece of legislation that protected members from disqualification with retrospective effect. President A. P. J. Kalam, returned the Bill. However, the Bill was sent back to President again and was finally approved.  

Summarizing

Suspensive Veto – Officially used once by President APJ Abdul Kalam in case of Office of Profit Bill.

Pocket Veto – Used once by President Zail Singh in case of Indian Post Office (Amendment) Bill in 1986.

Absolute Veto

Used twice –

  1. a) In 1954, by President Dr.Rajendra Prasad in case of PEPSU Appropriation Bill. The PEPSU appropriation Bill was passed by the Parliament during the President’s rule in the state of PEPSU(Patiala and East Punjab States Union).
  2. b) In 1991, by President R.Venkataraman in case of Salary, Amendments and Pension of Members of Parliament (Amendment) Bill. This Bill was passed on the last day before the Lok Sabha was dissolved and introduced without seeking prior recommendation from the President of India.

Veto over State Legislation

The President can direct the Governor to reserve certain Bills. Also, the Governor can reserve any Bill for the consideration of the President.  

In 2 scenarios, the Governor has to reserve the Bill for the consideration of the President

  1. A200 – If the Bill derogates the High Court and endangers its position
  2. A31A, A31C – Law made by State Legislature wrt estates and property acquisition requires assesnt of the President.

Article 201 of the Constitution talks about the role of the President in State Bills. It clearly states that the President has 3 choices.

  1. he assents to the Bill
  2. he withholds asset (provided that the Bill is not a Money Bill)
  3. may direct the Governor to return the Bill to the House. If returned, the legistalture has to consider it within 6 months. No obligation on the President if the Bill reaches him for the second time.

If governor reserved a Bill for consideration of President then President can use any of above veto power. But in case of suspensive Veto, if the State legislature is again passed Bill with simple majority then President is not bound to give assent to Bill. This is different from the from his powers wrt to a Union Bill where he is bound to give assent.

References

https://presidential-power.com/?p=2986

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