ACCORDING to Article 200, when a Bill has been passed by the legislature of a state it shall be presented to the Governor and the Governor shall declare either that he assents to the Bill or that he withholds assent therefrom or that he reserves the Bill for the consideration of the President. In case of withholding assent, the Governor is required to return the Bill, “as soon as possible”, together with a message for reconsideration of the Bill. When the Bill is presented a second time to the Governor he shall not withhold assent therefrom.
The Governor may reserve the Bill if in his opinion it will so derogate from the power of the High Court as to endanger its position. According to Article 201, when a Bill is reserved for the consideration of the President, the President shall declare either that he assents to the Bill or he withholds assent. The President may direct the Governor to return the Bill to the legislature with a message. When a Bill is so returned, the legislature shall reconsider it accordingly “within a period of six months” from the date of receipt of such message.
As regards the Governor acting with the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers, Article 163 indeed provides for it. However, it further states that the Governor may act in his discretion insofar as he is by or under the Constitution required to exercise his functions as such. It further states that any question relating to whether any matter is or is not a matter in which the Governor is required to act in his discretion, the decision of the Governor shall be final and the validity of anything done by him shall not be called in question.
The discretionary powers of the Governor, even though unquestionable, are not limitless, as mentioned earlier. They are normally exercisable in respect of reservation of Bills for the consideration of the President; making recommendation for the imposition of the President’s rule under Article 356; and seeking information from the Chief Minister with regard to the administrative and legislative matters of the state.
In addition, the Governors also have situational discretion such as appointment of Chief Minister when no party has a clear-cut majority; dismissal of the Government when it fails to establish its majority in a floor test; and dissolution of the state Assembly when the Council of Ministers resigns and there is no alternative. However, these powers have to be exercised very carefully, impartially and without prejudice in order to avoid charges of bias or political partisanship. A plain reading of the Constituent Assembly debates makes it amply clear that withholding assent to a Bill is not one of the discretionary powers of the Governors.
The grievance of the state governments and state legislatures is legitimate and needs serious consideration. As mentioned above, It is to be noted that according to Article 200, the Governor can return a Bill only once for reconsideration. Thus, constitutionally speaking, ultimately the will of the people has to prevail. Further, Article 201 provides a time limit for state legislatures for consideration of a Bill after it is returned by the President, having been earlier reserved by the Governor for his consideration.
Qualifying the phrase
Perhaps the phrase “as soon as possible”, used in the first proviso to Article 200, needs to be qualified to provide a time limit of either some months or subsequent sessions of the legislature, such as “but not later than six months or the next two sessions of the state legislature, whichever is more, unless it is reserved for the consideration of the President”.
All said and done, the constitution or the courts, for that matter, cannot be expected to use the language of the Indian Penal Code to advise authorities occupying high constitutional positions such as the President, the Governors, and Speakers of state Assemblies, who must discharge their duties in a time bound manner. Thus the words “as soon as possible” should be persuasive enough for the Governors to make up their mind within a decent interval of time without any coaxing or cajoling.
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