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THE STATE OF PUNJAB V PRINCIPAL SECRETARY TO THE GOVERNOR OF PUNJAB AND ANR. W.P.(C) NO. 1224/2023




Abstract:

In the case of The State of Punjab v Principal Secretary to the Governor of Punjab, a pivotal discussion unfolded regarding the Governor's role in legislative proceedings and the Speaker's authority in reconvening sessions. The dispute stemmed from the Governor withholding assent to four bills passed by the Vidhan Sabha, prompting a legal battle. The Court underscored that the Governor, despite being a titular head, cannot impede legislative processes and must adhere to the guidelines of Article 200. It clarified that while the Governor holds certain discretionary powers, decision-making primarily rests with the elected government. Additionally, it upheld the Speaker's jurisdiction to reconvene sessions within the framework of prorogation and adjournment, emphasizing the legislature's autonomy in assessing the validity of its proceedings. The ruling serves as a critical guideline for Governors nationwide, delineating their constitutional responsibilities and fortifying democratic principles within India's federal structure.


Introduction:

In the case of The State of Punjab v Principal Secretary to The Governor of Punjab and Anr, the writ petition has been filed under Article 32 of the Constitution of India, which was invoked by the State of Punjab. The writ petition was filed on the grounds that the Governor did not assent to the four Bills which were passed by the Vidhan Sabha nor have they been returned and furnish a recommendation for the introduction of certain Money Bills in the Vidhan Sabha. It was filed at the Supreme Court of India and was presented before Justice JB Pardiawala, CJI D.Y. Chandrachud, and Justice Manoj Mishra. The matter revolves around the Governor’s inaction on the bills passed during the session. While also discussing other subject matters related to the case.


Facts of the Case:

  1. On February 22, 2023, the Punjab Council of Ministers recommended summoning the Vidhan Sabha for the Budget Session, which the governor initially refused claiming he was seeking legal advice, which led to the institution of a petition.

  2. The governor was later advised for mature political governance and stressed the importance of upholding constitutional values and public trust in office.

  3. Further during the reconvened sitting on June 19-20, 2023 four bills were passed and no action was taken by the governor on the same.

  4. The governor on 17th July responded to the Chief Minister upon being asked for the assent of a bill by questioning the legality of the previous sessions and bills.

  5. On July 24, 2023, the Governor sent a letter to the Chief Minister, sharing a legal opinion calling the session illegal. Later, he reaffirmed this on October 19, 2023.

  6. The governor did not formally declare withholding assent but advised calling a fresh session with a specific agenda for approval

  7. Thereafter, the State of Punjab approached the Court seeking validation of the sessions and bills as well as requested a directive for pending bills.

  8. Attempted reconvening on October 19, 2023, for three Money Bills required the Governor's recommendation as per Article 207(1).

  9. The Court heard the case on Nov 6, 2023. It learned the Governor recommended two Bills post-petition filing.


Petitioner’s Arguments:

  1. The budget session, summoned on 3 March 2022 adjourned sine die without prorogation.

  2. That the adjournment as sine die could not have been treated as prorogation

  3. The Speaker reconvened the Assembly per constitutional jurisdiction under Vidhan Sabha rules on June 19-20, 2023, as specified in Rule 16's second proviso.

  4. Regulating the rules and conduct of the House lies solely on the Speaker.

  5. The Governor, as symbolic head of state, acted outside his scope of constitutional powers by deeming the June 2023 Vidhan Sabha session reconvening unconstitutional, voiding its legislative business.

  1. Consequences of The Speaker's decision nullify passed legislation. 


Respondent’s Arguments:

  1. After concluding the Budget Session, the House needed prorogation. The speaker couldn’t adjourn indefinitely; sessions were set for June 19-20, 2023, and later, October 19-20, 2023.

  2. Rule 14A of the Rules of Procedure mandates three Vidhan Sabha sessions: Budget, Winter and Monsoon. Hence, the Speaker can’t extend the session to June 2023.

  3. The governor assented to 185 bills, indicating no delay on his part. Except for the four bills that were withheld due to the adjournment of the House sine die.

  4. The governor even recommended introducing two out of the three Money Bills in the Vidhan Sabha.

  5. In the relief claimed under Article 32, the petition seeks a declaration of legality for the June 19-20, 2023 sessions, suggesting Punjab's uncertainty about their sessions’ validity.

  6. The governor has no issue with passing bills as long as the court confirms the lawful adjournment of the reconvening sessions in June 2023.


Issues Raised:

  1. The Governor can withhold action on Bills that have been passed by the State Legislature or not.

  2. It is permissible in law for the Speaker to reconvene a sitting of a Vidhan Sabha session that has been adjourned but has not been prorogued or not. 


Judgment:

  1. The Governor is a symbolic head and cannot withhold action on Bills passed by the State Legislature

The dispute in the present case essentially revolves around the governor withholding the four bills that were passed by the Vidhan Sabha. It was observed that in a parliamentary democracy, elected representatives hold real power. The Cabinet leads the governance, while the Governor, guided by the Council of Ministers, acts as a constitutional advisor except in specific areas of discretionary power. This setup ensures that decision-making authority predominantly rests with the elected arm of the government. Additionally, the Governor’s authority under Article 200 of the Constitution was discussed, wherein the options available to the Governor were emphasized namely: an option to assent; an option to withhold assent; and an option to reserve the Bill for the consideration of the President.

  1. On the matter of whether the Speaker can reconvene the Session unless prorogued in within his scope. The difference between prorogation and adjournment was noted, highlighting the provisions of Article 174 with the Governor. And therefore it was established rightly so.

  2. The court under Article 122(2) followed the fundamental principle that it is the right of each House of the legislature to keep its business and validity of proceedings free from court interventions. And that the Speaker’s decisions are final and binding by the Houses.

  3. It was considered that the Petitioner’s assertiveness on the legality and validity of the sessions were consistent regardless of the Respondent’s inactivity over the bills.

  4. For the smooth functioning of the Sessions, the senior counsel representing the Petitioner suggested promptly convening the Winter Session of the State Legislative Assembly through mutual consultation.


Conclusion:

The court’s decision on the above case emphasized that the Governor, as a titular State of Head, must act within the powers granted under Article 200 of the Constitution of India in terms of assenting to a bill. And that the Governor cannot thwart the normal course of law-making by the State Legislature. This clarification was necessary by the court due to the ambiguity in Article 200, which doesn’t expressly state what is to be done after withholding the assent for a bill. It was ascertained that it is the right of each House to be a judge of the lawfulness of its proceedings and immune itself from challenges before a court. 

It was held by the court that the House sessions on 19-20 June were deemed constitutionally valid. Doubting these sessions poses democracy's peril. The Speaker's adjournment falls within the jurisdiction, as does the House's re-convening per Rule 16. Casting doubt on the validity of the session of the House is not a constitutional option open to the Governor. The Legislative Assembly, with elected members, abides by the Speaker's decisions. Hence, the Governor of Punjab was directed to decide on Bills, assuming the sessions' validity. 

This ruling is expected to have a significant impact on Governors throughout India, especially in regions such as Kerala and Tamil Nadu, where they've faced allegations of obstructing legislation passed by the assembly. The Supreme Court's clarification on the governor's constitutional duties in the legislative procedure signifies a pivotal advancement in maintaining democratic principles and federalism in India.


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