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Governors Cannot Forget They are Not Elected Representatives, Little Bit Of Soul Searching Is Required: Supreme Court

The court advised that governors should reflect on their actions and act on bills before they become legal disputes that need to be resolved by the Supreme Court. The court also criticized the Punjab government for extending the assembly session from March to June.

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The Supreme Court expressed concern about state governors not taking action on bills passed by state legislatures. They emphasized that governors need to be aware that they are not elected representatives of the people. The court directed the Solicitor General, Tushar Mehta, to provide details about what action Punjab Governor Banwarilal Purohit has taken on the bills passed by the assembly.

The court advised that governors should reflect on their actions and act on bills before they become legal disputes that need to be resolved by the Supreme Court. The court also criticized the state government for extending the assembly session from March to June.

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Tushar Mehta, representing the Punjab governor, stated that Purohit has already taken action on the bills, and the plea filed by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government in the state is unnecessary litigation.

What did the Supreme Court bench say?

."Governors must act even before the matter comes to the Supreme Court. This has to come to an end when governors act only when matters reach the Supreme Court..." the bench said, they added, "A little bit of soul-searching is needed from the CM and Governor. Governors cannot be oblivious of the fact that they are not elected representatives of the people. The governor can withhold assent (to bills) and send it back once."

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"The SG says the Punjab governor has taken action and an updated status report will be placed in a few days. Let the plea be listed on Friday and let the court be apprised of the action taken by the governor," the bench, also comprising Justices JB Pardiwala and Manoj Misra, said.

As the hearing began, senior advocate Abhishek Singhvi, appearing for the Punjab government, said it is a very strange case where the governor has kept back seven bills including those related to fiscal management and education.

He said the bills were sent for the governor's consideration in July and his inaction has affected governance. 

Referring to the top court's judgment in the Nabam Rebia case, Singhvi claimed the governor does not have the authority to withhold bills in this fashion.

The Supreme Court, while deprecating the delay in the governor approving the bills, also criticised the Punjab government over the manner in which the assembly was reconvened. The court noted that the assembly was adjourned sine die on March 22, 2022 without being prorogued and it was reconvened. Pointing out that the Budget session virtually merged with the Monsoon session, the court wondered if it was the scheme of the Constitution.

"The assembly was summoned in March, adjourned sine die. The Speaker reconvened the sitting of the assembly in June. Is that really the scheme under the Constitution?... You have to hold a session in six months, right..." asked the bench further.

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Mehta said such a practice is against the constitutional scheme, as the House, once adjourned, cannot be reconvened in such a manner. He alleged that the House is reconvened so the members can "get together and abuse people".

The top court asked why should parties be required to move the Supreme Court to convene a Budget session. 

"We are a democracy which has been operational since the birth of the Constitution. These are matters which have to be sorted out between the Governor and the state government. We are available and we will ensure the Constitution is complied with," the bench said.

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What was the case about?

The Punjab government had moved the top court over the alleged delay in Governor Banwarilal Purohit giving assent to bills passed by the state assembly.

The plea said such "unconstitutional inaction" has brought the entire administration to a "grinding halt".

It said the governor cannot indefinitely sit over the bills as he has restricted powers under Article 200 of the Constitution, which deals with the Raj Bhawan occupant's power to give or withhold assent to a bill or reserve a bill for the president's consideration.

The Punjab governor is involved in a running feud with the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government led by Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann.

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On November 1, Purohit gave his approval to two of the three bills sent to him, days after he wrote to Mann saying he will examine all proposed laws on merit before allowing those to be tabled in the assembly.

The governor's approval is needed to table money bills in the House.

Purohit has approved the Punjab Goods and Services Tax (Amendment) Bill, 2023 and the Indian Stamp (Punjab Amendment) Bill, 2023. However, in his letter to the chief minister on October 19, the governor had said he withheld his approval to three money bills.

Purohit initially withheld approval to the Punjab Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management (Amendment) Bill, 2023, the Punjab Goods and Services Tax (Amendment) Bill, 2023 and the Indian Stamp (Punjab Amendment) Bill, 2023, which were to be tabled in the Assembly during the October 20-21 session.

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The governor had said the October 20-21 session, which was projected as an extension of the budget session, was "bound to be illegal" and any business conducted during it "unlawful". On October 20, the Punjab government had cut short its two-day session.

Mann had then announced that his government will move the top court against the governor for withholding approval to the three bills.

It is the second time in a year that the AAP government has approached the apex court.

Earlier, the Punjab government had moved the Supreme Court after accusing the governor of not "reverting" to the cabinet's decision of summoning the budget session in March.

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Four other bills -- 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 Assembly, which the governor had termed "patently illegal".

The apex court has posted the matter for further hearing on November 10.

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