The Supreme Court recently raised concerns over the Tamil Nadu Governor’s prolonged delay in disposing of bills submitted for his assent since January 2020. The bench, led by Chief Justice DY Chandrachud along with Justices JB Pardiwalaand Manoj Misra, scrutinized the Governor’s actions, noting that his decision to “withhold” assent on ten bills occurred only after the Court issued notice on a writ petition filed by the Tamil Nadu Government on November 10. The Court had earlier expressed serious concern over the Governor’s inaction, emphasizing its gravity.

During the hearing, Chief Justice DY Chandrachud directed questions to Attorney General for India R Venkataramani, expressing concern over the Governor’s timing in deciding upon the bills. The Chief Justice noted that the Governor’s action, undertaken on November 13, occurred post the Court’s order issued on November 10. This raised pertinent questions about the Governor’s lack of action over a three-year period and highlighted the need for the Governor’s office to proactively address constitutional responsibilities without waiting for Supreme Court intervention.

Attorney General Venkataramani presented the viewpoint that the dispute primarily revolved around bills aiming to divest the Governor’s powers related to Vice Chancellor appointments in State Universities. He mentioned the significance of reconsideration due to the critical nature of this issue.

However, the bench, emphasizing the significance of timely action, noted that the oldest pending bill was sent to the Governor’s office in January 2020. The Court observed that the concern extended beyond any specific Governor’s conduct but pertained to the general functioning of the Governor’s office concerning constitutional duties.

The Court also took note of the dates when the ten bills were forwarded to the Governor’s office, spanning from 2020 to 2023. Despite the clarification that the present Governor, RN Ravi, assumed office in November 2021, the bench highlighted its concern, focusing on the delay in executing constitutional duties.

Subsequently, it was brought to the Court’s attention that the Assembly had re-adopted the ten bills during a special session held the previous week. Therefore, the Court adjourned the hearing until December 1, awaiting further decision from the Governor.

Senior Advocates Mukul Rohatgi and Dr A M Singhvi, representing Tamil Nadu, highlighted that post the Court’s notice, the Governor declared having “withheld assent” on specific bills. Following this declaration, the Assembly conducted a Special Session and re-adopted the same bills.

Rohatgi further pointed out that the Governor’s action of withholding assent lacked adequate reasoning, highlighting that the law necessitated the Governor to provide a note for reconsideration. Instead, the Governor issued a terse communication merely stating, “I withhold assent.”

The Court also delved Into the powers of the Governor concerning bills as per Article 200 of the Constitution, particularly regarding the withholding of assent without re-sending it to the legislature for reconsideration. The bench raised questions on whether the Governor could simply withhold assent without such a recourse, delving into the nuances of the Governor’s powers vis-à-vis constitutional provisions.

In an order, the bench recorded statistics indicating that the Governor’s office received 181 bills, with assent granted for 152 bills, five bills withdrawn by the Government, nine bills reserved for the President’s assent, and ten bills on which assent was withheld. Additionally, five bills received in October 2023 are currently under consideration.

This case echoes similar instances in other states, where Governors acted on pending bills solely after respective State Governments approached the Court. Earlier cases in Punjab, Kerala, and Telangana reflect a recurring trend where Governors’ actions on pending bills were prompted only after Government writ petitions.

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