New Delhi: The governor of a state cannot refer bills passed by the legislature and readopted by it for presidential assent, the Supreme Court ruled on Friday, and asked Tamil Nadu Governor R N Ravi to hold a meeting with Chief Minister M K Stalin in an effort to end the impasse over 10 such pending bills. Ravi and Stalin have been locked in a war of attrition over numerous issues.
"We would like the governor to resolve the impasse...We will appreciate it if the governor resolves the impasse with the chief minister. I think the governor invites the chief minister and let them sit down and discuss it," a bench comprising Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud and justices J B Pardiwala and Manoj Misra said.
The bench took note of the submissions of senior advocate Abhishek Singhvi, who appeared for the state government, that the governor has now remanded the readopted bills for consideration by the President.
Accusing the office of the governor of "constitutional obstinacy", Sighvi said Raj Bhavan referred the bills to the President on November 28, after having sat on them for a long time, in 'flagrant violation' of the constitutional scheme.
The option of sending the readopted bills to the President was not available to the governor once he decided to withhold assent in the first instance when they were passed by the legislature.
Attorney General R Venkataramani, appearing for the office of the governor, argued that when a governor sends back a bill to the legislative assembly he is not withholding assent but merely asking the House to reconsider it.
When the assembly says it won't change its stand on a bill, the governor can send it to the President for consent, the top law officer said.
"The governor should have reserved it for the President first (in the first instance). If he has sent it back to the assembly and then it is re-adopted, the governor cannot send it to the President," the CJI said, referring to Article 200 of the Constitution.
"As per Article 200 of the Constitution, there are three options to the Governor - he can assent or withhold assent or he can reserve the bill for the President. They are all alternatives. In this case, the Governor initially said I withhold assent. Once he withholds the assent, there is no question of him then reserving it for President. He can't. He has to follow one of the three options - assent, withhold the assent or refer it to the President.
"So first and foremost, once he withholds the assent, then he can never say that now I am referring it to the President. Second, once he withholds the assent, he can't kill the bill right there. He can't stall the bill there. Once he withholds the assent, the proviso does not give him the fourth option," the CJI said.
If the governor does not return the bill to the assembly after withholding assent, it would mean that he can "completely stultify the bill", the bench said.
The bench said it was open to examining the plea that the governor has independent power of withholding assent.
"If the governor engages with the chief minister and meets to resolve the impasse, then it is good. This is what we suggested in the Kerala matter and said that both of them should sit together and sort it out," Chandrachud said, and fixed the Tamil Nadu government's plea for further consideration on December 11.
Earlier, the top court had questioned the delay on the part of Ravi in granting assent to several bills passed by the state assembly, asking why should governors wait for parties to move the top court with their grievances.
Posing tough questions, it asked what the governor was doing for three years, noting that the bills have been pending since January 2020.
The top court was hearing the Tamil Nadu government's plea alleging delay by Ravi in granting assent to bills. Tensions between Ravi and the M K Stalin government escalated further when the state assembly re-adopted 10 bills returned by him.
The bench had earlier recorded that the governor's office received 181 bills and he assented to 152, while five were withdrawn by the government. Nine Bills were reserved for presidential assent and consent to 10 others was withheld, the court had noted in its order.
The bills related to different departments including law, agriculture and higher education.