NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Monday raised a question mark over the delay by the Tamil Nadu's Governor in taking a decision on bills submitted for assent as early as in January 2020, as to what he was doing for three years.
As it was submitted the Governor withheld assent on certain bills, a bench led by Chief Justice of India D Y Chandrachud asked, "Why should the Governor wait for parties to approach the Supreme court? What was the Governor doing for three years?"
The bench, also comprising Justices J B Pardiwala and Manoj Misra, told the Attorney General R Venkataramani, the court had passed the order on November 10, and these bills have been pending since January 2020.
"It means that the Governor took the decision after the court issued notice," the bench said.
Venkatramani submitted the dispute is only related to those bills which seek to divest the Governor's powers relating to the appointment of Vice Chancellors in state universities and since it is an important issue, some reconsideration is required.
He also said the instant matter should not be taken to obtain sanction on validity of those bills.
He submitted that the Governor is not merely a technical supervisor.
Senior advocates A M Singhvi, P Wilson, and Mukul Rohatgi for the Tamil Nadu government, contended that the Article 200 does not mean that the Governor can withhold bills, and there has to be a reason attached to it after due application of mind.
"The Governor cannot just say that “I withhold assent”," they said.
The bench said that the Governor under the substantive part of Article 200, has three courses of actions- he can assent, withhold, reserve the bills for the President.
“When he withholds assent, does he necessarily need to send it for reconsideration? The proviso says ‘may’...,” the bench noted.
Singhvi said "as soon as possible" and the phrase is very clear.
"When you withhold assent, you have to send it back to the House or say that I'm sending it to President,” Singhvi said.
"Does he have a pocket veto," he asked.
The bench further asked after the house repasses the bill, can the Governor then send it back to the President?
Singhvi said 'No' because he has chosen a path and the object was never for the Governor to sit on the bill.
The bench pointed out that the oldest of the pending bills was sent to the Governor in January 2020, and noted the dates on which the ten bills were sent to the Governor's office, ranged between 2020 to 2023.
The AG said that the present governor R N Ravi assumed office only in November 2021. The bench replied that the issue is not whether any particular Governor delayed but whether in general there has been a delay in exercising constitutional functions.
Wilson submitted that if the Governor is allowed to withhold bills indefinitely, the governance will be paralysed and the Constitution never envisaged such a power for the governor.
The apex court was informed that after it issued notice on the petition, the Governor stated that he had "withheld the assent" on certain bills, and following that, the legislative assembly convened a special session and readopted those very same bills on November 18.
The bench was informed that now 15 bills are pending before the Governor, including ten bills which have been "re-passed" by the assembly.
The bench asked whether the Governor can send the bill to the President after the bill has been re-passed by the house.
The Tamil Nadu counsel said such a course is not open to the Governor after the bill has been passed again.
The bench noted that the Governor's office has received altogether 181 bills, out of which assent has been granted for 152 bills, and five bills were withdrawn by the government itself and nine bills have been reserved for the assent of the President and assent has been withheld on ten bills. Five bills, which were received in October 2023, are under consideration, it noted.
The bench fixed the matter for further hearing on December 1.
In its plea, the Tamil Nadu government claimed the Governor has positioned himself as a “political rival” to the legitimately elected government.
It claimed 54 files related to premature release of convicts, four files related to sanction for prosecution of public servants and 12 Bills, were pending including the one since January 9, 2020.