The Kerala government has escalated a legal battle by filing an appeal with the Supreme Court against a High Court judgment. The High Court had earlier dismissed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) that challenged the action of the Kerala Governor, ArifMohammed Khan, who had indefinitely withheld bills passed by the State legislature without adhering to the procedures outlined in Article 200 of the Indian Constitution. The decision comes on the back of increasing tensions between the executive and the governor’s office in various Indian states.
In the order delivered in November 2022, the Kerala High Court ruled that it could not impose a specific time frame on the Governor to provide assent to bills. The court emphasized that, even in a parliamentary democracy, when the Governor is given discretion under Article 200 of the Constitution of India, it may not be appropriate for the courts to issue directives to the Governor to exercise this discretion within a predefined time frame.
The PIL was originally filed by a lawyer who was aggrieved by the Governor’s actions. The Kerala government was a respondent in this case before the High Court. It argued that the Governor’s prolonged delay in considering over eight pending bills was a failure to uphold his constitutional duties. The State Government contended that the Governor’s actions were not in the public interest and deprived the citizens of welfare measures.
The State has stressed that several bills of immense public interest have been held back by the Governor. This not only threatens the democratic principles and the rule of law but also the welfare of the people of the state. The State claims that the words “as soon as possible” in the main proviso to Article 200 mean that pending bills should be dealt with urgently and without any avoidable delay.
In its petition to the Supreme Court, the Kerala government highlighted that the Governor had taken no action on as many as eight bills passed by the State Legislature and presented to the Governor for his assent under Article 200 of the Constitution. Furthermore, the government revealed that three bills had been pending with the Governor for over two years, and three others had been pending for more than a year.
The State has now petitioned the Supreme Court for a directive to the Governor to exercise his powers under Article 200 of the Constitution with respect to each of the pending bills.
This legal battle over the Governor’s discretionary powers under Article 200 of the Constitution is not unique to Kerala. Other Indian states have faced similar controversies, leading to legal disputes. A recent case in Punjab saw Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud affirming that Governors cannot indefinitely withhold bills.
Last week, the Government of Kerala filed a writ petition under Article 32 in the Supreme Court, stating that the Governor’s delay in considering bills was a constitutional concern. The Kerala government’s move is part of a growing trend of Governors and state governments clashing over constitutional duties and political powers.
As the legal battle escalates in Kerala, the Supreme Court has agreed to hear the petition filed by the Kerala government, along with a similar petition from Tamil Nadu, in addition to the ongoing case from Punjab. This development indicates that the Court is taking a keen interest in addressing the questions surrounding the discretionary powers of Governors and the withholding of bills in various Indian states.
The upcoming Supreme Court hearing is expected to provide more clarity on the scope of Governors’ discretion under Article 200, how it relates to the broader constitutional framework, and what limitations may apply. Additionally, the Court’s decision may have significant implications for the working relationship between state governments and Governors across the country.
In a larger context, the dispute between the Kerala government and the Governor’s office reflects the ongoing discussions around the balance of power, federalism, and constitutional principles in India. It highlights the need for a clear understanding of the roles, responsibilities, and limitations of Governors and elected state governments to ensure smooth governance and the protection of citizens’ rights and welfare.
The Supreme Court’s upcoming decision on this issue will be closely watched not only in Kerala but throughout India, as it may set important precedents for the interactions between Governors and state governments, ultimately shaping the nation’s political landscape.