Kerala Govt moves SC challenging President’s refusal to assent its bills

The Kerala Government sought the Supreme Court to declare that withholding of assent by the President to four Bills without stating any reason as unconstitutional.
Kerala Govt moves SC challenging President’s refusal to assent its bills
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Kerala government, on Saturday, March 23, moved the Supreme Court challenging President Draupadi Murmu’s refusal to assent four of the seven bills that was referred to her by Kerala Governor Arif Mohammed Khan.

The Governor had, in November 2023, sent the seven Bills to the President just a day before the Supreme Court was scheduled to hear the state government's case against him for holding back crucial Bills passed by the legislature.

The state government has filed a petition under Article 32 of the Constitution (Right to constitutional remedies), in which it has challenged the Governor for referring the seven Bills to the President when “no single one among the seven bills relates to Centre-state relations”. The government also argued that the Bills were pending with the Governor for around two years, which has ”subverted the functioning of the legislature of the State and rendered its existence itself ineffective and otiose.” 

The state government also pointed out that according to Article 200 (which lays down the procedure to be followed when a state legislature passes a bill), the Governor should act on the Bill “as soon as possible” after it is presented to them - either by approving/rejecting or referring to the President. Kerala government argued that the delay of two years was a ‘deliberate attempt’ to avoid carrying out his Constitutional duty and function under Article 200. The government argued that on this ground alone, the reference made to the President of the seven Bills should be held “unconstitutional and lacking in good faith”, and sought the reference of the Bills should be recalled.

Kerala had, in November 2023, petitioned the apex court against Governor Arif for not signing the eight bills pending with him since long. While he signed off one Bill, Arif sent seven Bills to the President.

The state also contended that referring the bills, which have been pending before the Governor for two years, to the President, is “a grave injustice to the post that the Governor holds and to his constitutional duties as well”. It also added that the President did not give any reason for withholding assent for four Bills, which are violative of Article 14 (equality before law) , Article 200 and Article 201 (Bills reserved for consideration) of the Constitution. Kerala also submitted that these actions of the Governor, President and the Council of Ministers aiding the President defeat the rights of the people of Kerala under Article 21 of the Constitution, by denying them the benefits of welfare legislation enacted by the State Assembly.

The assent has been withheld for the following four Bills:

  1. The University Laws (Amendment) (No 2) Bill, 2021

  2. The Kerala Co-operative Societies (Amendment) Bill, 2022

  3. The University Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2022

  4. The University Laws (Amendment) (No 3) Bill, 2022

Kerala government sought the following reliefs from the top court: 

  1. The court should call for the records leading to the file notes of the Governor for the State of Kerala, regarding why he reserved the four Bills to the President and quash the reservation.

  2. Declare that the act of the Governor reserving four bills for consideration of the President as unconstitutional.

  3. The court should call for the records leading to the withholding of assent by the President to four bills and quash the same. 

  4. Declare that withholding of assent by the President to four Bills without stating any reason as unconstitutional.

  5. Direct the Governor of the State of Kerala to grant assent to the Bills.

  6. Declare that the act of the Governor of Kerala in reserving the seven bills for the consideration of the President as illegal and lacking in bona fides.

The petition was filed by Advocate CK Sasi and settled by Senior Advocate and former Attorney General KK Venugopal.

It is to be noted that in a similar case by the Tamil Nadu government against the Governor delaying assent, the top court questioned why the Governor referred the Bills to the President after withholding his assent initially. In the case of the neighbouring state, Governor RN Ravi had initially withheld assent and then rejected the Bills. After the Assembly re-enacted them and sent it for his assent, he referred it to the President.

In the case of Punjab government against Governor Banwarilal Purohit for not assenting to four bills passed by the legislature, the Supreme Court had observed that Governor’s “power cannot be used to thwart the normal course of lawmaking by the State Legislatures”. The court also said that the Governors, however, must act in a manner consistent with the provisions of Article 200 of the Constitution.

Read: Supreme Court Rules Governor's Powers Cannot Thwart State Lawmaking: Article 200 Explained

Later, while considering the Kerala government’s petition on Governor Arif’s prolonged delay in assenting to the bills, the apex court suggested Arif to refer to its judgement in the Punjab Governor case. The court, in yet another hearing, slammed the Governor for the delay and said that there was no reason for delaying eight bills for a two-year period.

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