New Delhi, November 10, 2023: As per media reports, the Supreme Court on Friday asked Governor Banwarilal Purohit to take decisions on the four Bills—passed during the extended Budget Session—that have remained pending with him.
On Monday, the top court had disapproved of Governors sitting over Bills passed by state Assemblies, saying they must act before the matter reached the top court. “Why does the party have to come to the Supreme Court? Governors act only when matters reach the Supreme Court. This has to stop. You come to the Supreme Court then the Governor starts acting. This shouldn’t be,” CJI Chandrachud had said.
The Sikh Gurdwaras (Amendment) Bill, 2023, the Punjab Universities Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2023, the Punjab Police (Amendment) Bill, 2023 and the Punjab Affiliated Colleges (Security of Service) Amendment Bill, 2023 – are awaiting the Governor’s assent. These Bills were passed during the June 19-20 session of the Punjab Legislative Assembly, which the Governor had termed “patently illegal”.
Declaring the Punjab Legislative Assembly’s session held in June as constitutionally valid, a three-judge Bench led by CJI DY Chandrachud said that there is no valid constitutional basis to cast doubt on the session of the Vidhan Sabha and any attempt to cast doubt on the session of the legislature would be fraught with grave perils for democracy. The Speaker who has been recognised to be the guardian of the privileges of the House and the constitutionally recognised figure to adjourn the House sine die and was within the ambit of rule 16 of Rules of Procedure of business of the Punjab Vidhan Sabha.
“Casting doubt on the validity of the session of the House is not a constitutional option available to the Governor. During the session of the House, the Speaker is the one who governs adjournment and prorogation. We, therefore, hold that the Punjab Governor now must proceed to take decisions on the Bills passed during the June 19, 2023, session which was constitutionally valid,” said the Bench which also included Justice JB Pardiwala and Justice Manoj Misra.
The Bench, however, made it clear that the Governor was free to proceed as per law and grant his assent or withhold his assent or refer the four Bills to the President as it refrained from expressing any opinion on his constitutional authority or the manner in which he shall exercise his powers.
“The Governor is a titular head. The fundamental law followed is that the Governor acts on aid and advice of the Council of Ministers, except on subjects he has discretion… The Governor is expected to act as a constitutional statesman guiding the government on matters of constitutional concern,” the Bench said in its order.
Noting that in a parliamentary form of democracy real power vested in elected representatives, it said these principles were fairly established since the top court’s verdict in Shamsher Singh versus State of Punjab (1974).
While the Bench was dictating the order, Mehta urged it to clarify that the House can’t be repeatedly adjourned sine die to avoid prorogation. The CJI assured him that he would consider adding it to the final order.
Earlier, taking strong exception to the Governor sitting over certain Bills passed by the Punjab Legislative Assembly, the top court cautioned Purohit, saying he was playing with fire.
“You (Governor) are playing with fire. How can the Governor say the Bills passed by the Assembly are invalid because the session was irregular? These are Bills passed by a duly elected body…Not clearing the Bills saying that the session is unconstitutional is like playing with fire. Will we continue to be a parliamentary democracy?” the CJI-led Bench wondered.
“Please don’t deflect the course of Bills passed by the duly elected Assembly. It’s a matter of very serious concern,” the Bench told Additional Solicitor General Satya Pal Jain, who represented the Governor’s Office.
“They (Speaker and Punjab Government) were within their rights in adjourning it sine die and calling it again because the Budget Session hadn’t ended. How can you (Governor) say that Bills which have been passed cannot be assented to because the session is invalid? You realise the gravity of what you’re doing?
The Governor has refused to give his assent to certain Bills passed by the state Assembly questioning the validity of the session held on June 19-20 this year.
During the hearing, the top court also disapproved of the Punjab Government’s conduct in not proroguing the Budget Session and virtually merging it with the Winter Session.
“What your government is doing in Punjab is also defeating the Constitution,” the Bench told senior counsel Abhishek Manu Singhvi, who represented the Punjab Government.
“We understand that it may be necessary to adjourn the House sine die between the budget session…there may be Diwali etc. but your budget session is now going Monsoon… Monsoon goes to Winter session… If democracy has to work, it has to work in the hands of the Chief Minister and the Governor as well. You cannot ignore the rules of the House that there have to be three sessions,” the Bench told Singhvi.
“Tell us when are you now proroguing the Budget Session which hasn’t been prolonged?” the Bench asked Singhvi who said, “I can’t give an exact date. Your Lordships may take it that the Assembly intends to have a Winter Session in near foreseeable future.”
The top court sought to know under which provision of the Constitution the Governor could take such a recourse and if the Speaker did not have the power to adjourn the session sine die.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta sought to intervene in the dispute between the Governor and the Punjab Government on behalf of the Centre, saying a solution could be found without contesting the matter.