The recent judgment by the Supreme Court concerning the Punjab Government’s plea against the Governor’s inaction on four bills passed by the state legislature sheds light on the reconvening of a sitting of the Vidhan Sabha and the distinction between prorogation and dissolution powers. Delivered on November 10 and made available on November 23, the apex court affirmed that reconvening a sitting of the Vidhan Sabha, not prorogued, falls within the Speaker’s exclusive domain and is legally permissible.
The case stemmed from the Punjab Governor’s refusal to assent to bills passed during the June session, which was presented as an extension of the budget session. The Governor argued that this extension was “bound to be illegal,” leading to the withholding of assent for bills passed during this period. However, the Supreme Court clarified that if a session had not been prorogued, reconvening a sitting in the Vidhan Sabha was permissible under the law.
Article 174 of the Constitution became pivotal in this ruling as the Court underscored the distinction between the powers to prorogue and dissolve. It emphasized the difference between a sitting and a session of the legislature, citing Article 174(1) that stipulates a maximum six-month interval between two sittings but acknowledges the possibility of multiple sittings within one session. This provision aligns with similar norms for Parliament outlined in Article 85 of the Constitution.
The judgment extensively highlighted instances where the House’s adjournment sine die was not followed by prorogation, allowing the Speaker to reconvene sittings. It referenced the Punjab Vidhan Sabha’s Rules of Procedure, which recognized the Speaker’s authority to reconvene a sitting adjourned sine die but not prorogued. Moreover, a review of other state legislatures’ procedures revealed similar provisions, enabling Speakers to recall sittings post adjournment sine die.
Under Article 122(2) of the Constitution, the Speaker possesses authority over the conduct and procedure of business within the House. The Court asserted that the Speaker’s decisions on such matters were final and binding on all House members. It clarified that any irregularity in the Speaker adjourning the House sine die and subsequently calling for resumption could not be contested, as the Speaker acted in the public’s interest.
Furthermore, the judgment emphasized that if a Governor chooses to withhold assent to a Bill, it must be returned to the legislature for reconsideration, thereby underlining the legislative process’s significance.
In the case titled The State Of Punjab v Principal Secretary To The Governor Of Punjab And Anr. with Case Number W.P.(C) No. 1224/2023, the Supreme Court delineated the legal authority vested in the Speaker to reconvene the Vidhan Sabha post adjournment sine die, without prorogation. It reiterated the Speaker’s role as the sole custodian of the House’s proceedings and affirmed the Speaker’s empowered status in adjourning and reconvening the House.
The Court’s ruling significantly clarifies the procedural nuances regarding the reconvening of legislative sittings and reinforces the Speaker’s crucial role in managing the functioning of the House. The judgment underscores the constitutionally bestowed powers vested in the Speaker and upholds the integrity of the legislative process in the context of reconvening sittings within a session, providing a significant precedent for future legislative actions and constitutional interpretations.