The Supreme Court on Friday flagged the “constitutional deadlock” created by Tamil Nadu Governor RN Ravi by inexplicably delaying or even failing to consider and assent to 12 crucial Bills passed by the Legislature and stymieing day-to-day governance in a way which is threatening to bring administration in the State to a grinding halt a “serious concern”.
A three-judge Bench headed by Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud issued formal notice to Union of India through the Home Ministry to respond to Tamil Nadu government’s petition that the Governor was acting in a manner which “defeats the rights of the people” of the State to welfare legislations.
The court asked the Attorney General of India, or in his absence, the Solicitor General of India to be present in court on November 20 even as Tamil Nadu, represented by senior advocates AM Singhvi and P Wilson, said the Governor is even holding back files seeking sanction for prosecution of public servants in corruption cases, pleas for premature release of prisoners and appointments to the Tamil Nadu Public Service Commission (TNPSC).
Wilson submitted that there is “not a word” from the Governor on any of these files or Bills, which relate to subjects from public health, higher education, etc.
The court, in its short order, highlighted that the Article 200 of the Constitution mandates the Governor to act “as soon as possible” when Bills, passed by the State Legislature, are presented to him for declaration of assent.
Chief Justice Chandrachud orally observed that the Governor could either give his assent, withhold assent in which case, if the Bills are not Money Bills, return the Bills to the House suggesting modifications/amendments or refer the proposed laws to the President. The court said the Governor cannot just sit on them indefinitely.
“The Bills have been pending since January 2020 till now. We have been begging him to consider them. We have been begging him to grant sanction for prosecution. We have been begging him for remission… He is doing nothing,” Singhvi said.
Wilson said 10 of the 14 posts in the TNPSC, including that of the Chairperson, are vacant.
There are four files for prosecution sanction forwarded to the Governor between April 2022 and May 2023.
The State said the Governor has positioned himself as a political rival to the legitimately elected government. The Governor’s inactions have caused an impasse between the constitutional head of the State and the elected government of the State. The Governor is toying away with the citizen’s mandate, the petition said.
“The Governor by not signing remission orders, day-to-day files, appointment orders, approving recruitment orders, granting approval to prosecute Ministers, MLAs involved in corruption including transfer of investigation to CBI by Supreme Court and Bills passed by Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly is bringing the entire administration to a grinding halt and creating adversarial attitude by not cooperating with the State administration,” the State government said in its petition, filed through advocate Sabarish Subramanian.
The State urged the Supreme Court to declare the “inaction, omission, delay and failure to comply with the constitutional mandate by the Governor of Tamil Nadu” as illegal and arbitrary.
The “unreasonable malafide exercise of power” by the Governor to neither consider Bills passed and forwarded to him by the State Legislature for his assent was unconstitutional.
“’Assent’ of the Governor/President does not involve any element of discretion of the individuals occupying the posts but the ‘assent’ should only be based on the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers,” the State reminded.
‘Outer time limit’ sought
The State sought the Supreme Court to fix a deadline or an “outer time limit” for Governor Ravi to consider the Bills and government orders pending with his office.
Further, the State noted that the Governor has failed to accord sanction for prosecution and investigation into cases of corruption involving moral turpitude of public servants and issues pertaining to the premature release of prisoners.
According to the petition, frequent reminders were sent to the Principal Secretary to the Governor along with a copy of TNPSC Regulations, 1954 on August 17 for carrying out these appointments, but the Governor returned the file on September 27 with a note raising some queries that are “against established practices for selection of constitutional posts”. Despite further efforts by the State to justify the appointment proposal, the Governor returned the files “wrongfully without proper reasoning” on October 27.
The State accused the Governor of “politically motivated conduct” for denying sanction to probe authorities in corruption cases against public servants despite finding prima facie evidence against them.
“This includes the CBI inquiry that the Supreme Court approved and that the Madras High Court ordered,” the petition said.
It said a delegation of elected representatives led by the State Law Minister had to meet the President to hand over a letter of the Chief Minister seeking her intervention to direct the Governor to conduct himself in accordance with the Constitution.