Kerala Government's Legal Battle: Challenging Executive Power

Image depicting the legal battle of the Kerala Government challenging executive power
Kerala Government's Legal Battle: Challenging Executive Power

The Kerala government recently petitioned the Supreme Court, raising concerns over President Droupadi Murmu's withholding of assent to four Bills passed by the state without disclosing any rationale, and Governor Arif Mohammed Khan's prolonged withholding of assent to seven Bills before referring them to the President.

This move underscores the persistent conflict between opposition-led states and their Governors, who are appointed by the President upon the Centre's advice.

Governor’s Role in Legislation

Article 200 of the Constitution delineates the Governor’s role in the legislative process. Upon the passage of a Bill by the state legislature, the Governor possesses three options:

  1. Grant assent to the Bill
  2. Withhold assent
  3. Reserve the Bill for the President’s consideration

If the Governor chooses to withhold assent, Article 200 mandates the expeditious return of the Bill to the House or Houses with a request for reconsideration. Upon re-passage, with or without amendments, the Governor must grant assent, thereby granting the state government final authority over legislation. However, the absence of a specific timeline for gubernatorial action has prompted states to seek redressal from the Supreme Court.

President’s Role in Legislation

Article 201 governs the President’s role when a Bill is referred for consideration. The President can either grant or withhold assent. If assent is withheld, the President directs the Governor to return the Bill for reconsideration within six months, failing which it lapses. Unlike the Governor, the President is under no obligation to grant assent upon reconsideration.

Concerns Raised by Kerala

The Kerala government contends that Governor Khan and President Murmu’s actions are “manifestly arbitrary,” alleging that prolonged withholding of Bills violates Article 200’s mandate for timely decision-making.

Furthermore, the government asserts that Governor Khan has undermined the functioning of the state legislature, rendering it ineffective. Regarding President Murmu’s withholding of assent to four Bills without explanation, Kerala argues that this contravenes Article 201, which stipulates the return of Bills with recommended amendments.

Similar Issues Across States

Several opposition-led states have encountered comparable challenges with their Governors:

  • Tamil Nadu: Governor R N Ravi withheld assent to 10 Bills for prolonged periods before returning them without explanation.
  • Telangana: Former Governor Tamilisai Soundarajan initially refused assent to 10 Bills before relenting.
  • Punjab: Governor Banwarilal Purohit declined assent to four Bills, citing procedural breaches.

Question of Assent Timeline

In November 2023, the Supreme Court ruled that Governors cannot indefinitely withhold assent, but refrained from prescribing a specific timeline. Kerala has now sought the Court's intervention to address this issue.

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