By Sushil Kutty
The way the lay of the land lies, courts have the last word and among the courts, the Supreme Court. So, it’s a “big victory” for the AAP government and a lesson for the Punjab Governor who had withheld consent to four bills passed by the Punjab assembly while also ruling an entire assembly session invalid. The top court said the Punjab Governor’s refusal to give assent to the bills and ruling the session invalid had “put the parliamentary form of government in peril”.
With the top court’s mind made up, there was no use arguing back and forth any further, especially after the court ruled that the Speaker had the jurisdiction. With that argument settled, the apex court took note of similar standoffs involving the Tamil Nadu and Kerala governors and sought to know what was being done with those constitutional issues. There’s a message for them, too, in this lesson to the Punjab Governor.
For the time being, however, it is victory for the Aam Aadmi Party which at this point in time could do with some cheer. The Supreme Court observation that the Punjab Governor was “playing with fire” and “putting parliamentary form of government in peril” was particularly pleasing to the badgered ears of the Bhagwant Mann government. The Supreme Court could barely conceal its outrage when it said not giving assent to the four bills was erroneous and mistaken, and completely out of place.
The top court agreed the Governor had exceeded his jurisdiction and invaded the Speaker’s domain. Only the Speaker of the House can adjourn/prorogue the Assembly, the bench of Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud and Justices J B Pardiwala and Manoj Misra said.
So, the Speaker hadn’t erred when he adjourned the Budget Session sine die without proroguing it. “Do you realise the gravity of what you are doing?” The Supreme Court’s scathing criticism of the Governor should be a lesson, a warning shot across the bow, for all governors.
Of late, governors have been getting into avoidable confrontations with the state governments they have been appointed to guide.
Some would even call them activist-governors for want of a better phrase. The Punjab Governor, for instance, who ruled an entire assembly session invalid because, according to him, the Speaker should have prorogued and not adjourned the House.
“Do you realise you are playing with fire?” the top court told the Governor. “The bills are passed by a duly elected legislative body. If you have reservations…that it is unconstitutional …there are remedies under the Constitution.” One, there’s the President to turn to. Two, the bill can be returned to the assembly. What cannot be done is for the Governor to sit on judgment and rule the session unconstitutional.
Such powers in the hands of the governor is suicidal. “What will happen, will we continue to be a parliamentary form of government?” The Supreme Court couldn’t have been more horrified. It ruled that the session was valid and asked the governor to examine the bills using his constitutional powers.
Senior counsels, the usual suspects, brought up similar cases involving Tamil Nadu and Kerala governors. “How will the government function with such an obstructionist governor?” one of the senior counsels asked. Good thing for him was the top court termed the situation a “matter of serious concern”. The CJI’s bench asked the home secretary to state the government’s response on the “constitutional imbroglio” in Tamil Nadu, where Governor R N Ravi is easily very hard to convince, after another senior counsel said “the disease has spread from Punjab to Kanyakumari”.
Kerala Governor Arif Mohammed Khan is another strident governor to confront, and Kerala’s LDF government could do with a bit of commiseration from the Supreme Court. Governor Khan’s belligerence will be up for hearing shortly. How the top court deals with Kerala Governor Arif Mohammed Khan will be interesting to watch. Governor Khan usually always does his homework before he gets started.
For now, the Punjab case is in the limelight. CJI Chandrachud’s bench has given the AAP a much needed boost from the troughs of despair the party has been in following the enforcement directorate’s actions against AAP leaders including AAP convenor and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. Governors meanwhile have been given much to mull over. The Governor’s role is spelled out in the Constitution and Governors shouldn’t be crossing the red lines. Like “casting doubt on the validity of the session of the House is not a constitutional option open to the Governor.” (IPA Service)