Thursday , 29 February 2024
Thursday , 29 February 2024

Punjab cannot afford conflict of constitutional offices

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  • 28 Nov, 2023

The Rising Panjab Bureau

In our democracy, the conflict between a state Governor and the chief minister has till recently been a rarity. Instances of two constitutional positions crossing swords had been far and few till in the Modi government the Governors have begun to play a disproportionate role in the affairs of opposition-ruled States,  Most opposition-ruled States, like Kerala, West Bengal, Punjab, Telangana, Jharkhand and Tamil Nadu have had problems with respective Governors, who sought to display overbearing attitudes vis-a-vis the elected governments, using their discretionary powers under the Constitution.

The pro-active role of Governors, including that of Punjab, has only been disruptive and in that perspective, the Supreme Court verdict in the context of Punjab is a welcome step.  The Supreme Court’s judgment in State of Punjab vs Principal Secretary to the Governor of Punjab and Another, delivered on November 10, and made available on November 23, would be a landmark in many ways for times to come.

In our democracy, the conflict between a state Governor and the chief minister has till recently been a rarity. Instances of two constitutional positions crossing swords had been far and few till in the Modi government the Governors have begun to play a disproportionate role in the affairs of opposition-ruled States,  Most opposition-ruled States, like Kerala, West Bengal, Punjab, Telangana, Jharkhand and Tamil Nadu have had problems with respective Governors, who sought to display overbearing attitudes vis-a-vis the elected governments, using their discretionary powers under the Constitution.

The conflict between the Aam Aadmi Party Government in Punjab and the Governor was ignited over the legality of the Assembly session, called by the Speaker on June 19 and 20.  The Speaker “reconvened” the session, which was adjourned by him sine die on March 22. The Assembly passed the four Bills during the session. The Governor questioned the legality of this session, and refused to take any action on these Bills. The Governor maintained that the Speaker should have prorogued and not adjourned the session.

The Speaker “reconvened” the session on October 19, in order to introduce three Money Bills, for which the recommendation of the Governor was required in terms of Article 207(1) of the Constitution. The Governor, however, “withheld” his approval to the Bills, on the ground that both the June as well as October sessions of the Assembly were “patently illegal, against the accepted procedures and practice of the legislature, and against the provisions of the Constitution”. 

As the Supreme Court entertained the Punjab Government’s petition on November 6, the Governor recommended that two of the three Money Bills might be introduced before the Assembly. 

It has been quite a mess for the common man in Punjab. Meanwhile, as the AAP changed the advocate general midstream, maybe the required advice was not forthcoming. 

The Supreme Court’s three-judge bench led by the Chief Justice of India, D.Y.Chandrachud and comprising Justices J.B. Pardiwala and Manoj Misra, categorically observed and underlined that in democracy, real power rests in the elected representatives of the people and that the Governor, as an appointee of the President, is the titular head of State. The bench clarified that the Governor acts on the “aid and advice” of the Council of Ministers, save and except in those areas where the Constitution has entrusted the exercise of discretionary power to the Governor.

The bench also held that it was legally permissible for the Speaker to reconvene the assembly—which has not been prorogued, but only adjourned -- as he has exclusive jurisdiction over regulating the procedure of the House. The bench referred to the difficulty faced by the Punjab government in having the House summoned by the Governor earlier necessitating the Court’s intervention, and pointed out that the imbroglio could have been obviated by statesmanship and collaboration.

On the role of the governor, the Supreme Court Bench said it was replete with grave perils to democracy. Punjab, being a border state, does not want such constitutional conflicts in the air when it is already battling with other problems.


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