Kerala Government Challenges Governor’s Role in Lawmaking Process

The Kerala government has recently approached the Supreme Court, raising concerns about President Droupadi Murmu withholding assent to four Bills passed by the state without disclosing any reason, and Governor Arif Mohammed Khan withholding assent to seven Bills for extended periods before referring them to the President.

Kerala has urged the top court to declare the referring of state Bills to the President as “unconstitutional and lacking in good faith.”
This move highlights the ongoing conflict between opposition-ruled states and their Governors, who are appointed by the President on the Centre’s advice.

Governor’s Role in Lawmaking

Article 200 of the Constitution outlines the Governor’s role in the lawmaking process. After a Bill has been passed by the state legislature, it is presented to the Governor, who has three options:

  • Give assent to the Bill
  • Withhold assent
  • Reserve the Bill for consideration by the President

If the Governor withholds assent, Article 200 states that the Governor should return the Bill to the House or Houses “as soon as possible” with a message requesting reconsideration. If the Bill is passed again by the House or Houses with or without amendment and presented to the Governor for assent, the Governor shall not withhold assent. This provision gives the state government the final say on enacting legislation. However, the lack of a specific timeline for the Governor to act has led to states approaching the Supreme Court.

President’s Role in the Process of Lawmaking

When a Bill is sent to the President for consideration, the President can either give or withhold assent, as per Article 201. If assent is withheld, the President requests the Governor to return the Bill to the state legislature for reconsideration. The state government then has six months to reconsider the Bill, failing which it lapses. If the Bill is passed once again by the state legislature, it must be sent back to the President, who, unlike the Governor, is under no obligation to give assent when assessing the reconsidered Bill. This is the only situation in which state governments do not have the final say in their own lawmaking process.

Issues Raised by Kerala

The Kerala government’s petition terms the actions of Governor Khan and President Murmu as “manifestly arbitrary,” arguing that the decision to keep Bills pending violates Article 200 by not deciding “as soon as possible.”

The government claims that the Governor has “subverted the functioning” of the state legislature and “rendered its existence itself ineffective and otiose.” Regarding President Murmu’s decision to withhold assent to four Bills without giving any reason, the Kerala government argues that this violates Article 201, which requires the President to return the Bill with a message containing recommended amendments.

Situation in Other States

Several other opposition-ruled states have faced similar issues with their Governors:

  • Tamil Nadu: Governor R N Ravi withheld assent to 10 Bills for extended periods before returning them for reconsideration without reasons.
  • Telangana: Former Governor Tamilisai Soundarajan refused to give assent to 10 Bills passed by the state’s legislative assembly before eventually doing so.
  • Punjab: Governor Banwarilal Purohit refused to give assent to four Bills, claiming they were passed in breach of law and procedure.

Question of Timeline for Assent

In November 2023, the Supreme Court held that the Governor cannot keep a Bill pending indefinitely without any action, and if the Governor decides to withhold assent, he is bound to follow the procedure provided in Article 200 and return it to the state legislature for reconsideration.

However, the court stopped short of providing a definitive timeline for the Governor to make the decision. The Kerala government has now approached the Supreme Court to address this issue.


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