In a significant ruling, the Supreme Court on November 20 emphasised that the Governor lacks the discretion to withhold assent to Bills when the State Legislative Assembly repasses them. The court’s verdict comes in response to a petition filed by the Tamil Nadu government, which accused Governor R.N. Ravi of creating a constitutional impasse by delaying or refusing to consider 12 crucial Bills passed by the State Assembly.
The Tamil Nadu government’s complaint is not an isolated incident. Other non-BJP-ruled States, such as Kerala and Punjab, have also raised concerns about the overreach of Union-appointed Governors. Kerala, in a separate petition, pointed out that eight of its proposed laws have been pending with the Governor for years. Punjab, on the other hand, alleged that the Governor has been sitting on seven of its Bills since June. Notably, Telangana’s Governor only cleared Bills pending since September 2022 following the Supreme Court’s intervention in April.
The practice of Governors withholding assent to Bills dates back to the British colonial era when they were appointed by Queen Elizabeth I to enforce the policies of the English Empire rather than address the administrative concerns of individual provinces. This practice has largely continued in post-independent India, with political parties using the position of Governor as a tool to exert control over States where they lack a majority.
The Narendra Modi-led BJP government has been particularly adept at exploiting this power in non-BJP-ruled States, creating constitutional deadlocks that hinder the functioning of State legislatures. Examples include the appointment of Bhagat Singh Koshyari as Governor of Maharashtra, which led to the collapse of the Uddhav Thackeray-led coalition government; Tathagata Roy’s appointment as Governor of Tripura despite his history of insensitive remarks; and C.V. Ananda Bose’s appointment as Governor of West Bengal, where he is currently sitting on 22 Bills passed by Mamata Banerjee’s government.
In these cases, Governors have effectively become agents of the Union government rather than impartial upholders of the Constitution. Despite recommendations from commissions like the Sarkaria Commission on the powers and appointments of Governors, these concerns have largely been ignored. It is now up to the judiciary to safeguard the federal structure of India, ensure fair power-sharing, and prioritise the interests of the people, the true makers of democracy, over those of political parties.
In this context, we have selected a collection of insightful stories from our archives to help you better understand the powers of a Governor and how a constitutional deadlock like this can be potentially resolved. Please feel free to share your comments with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.