Bleak prospects for local body delimitation amid spat between Kerala govt, Governor

Kerala Governor Arif Mohammad Khan

Thiruvananthapuram: The friction between the Pinarayi Vijayan-led LDF government in Kerala and the assertive Governor may pose hiccups in the passage of emergency legislation. Even as the state government is keen on increasing the number of wards in civic bodies by one on the basis of the 2011 census, Governor Arif Mohammd Khan is adamant on his refusal to sign the Ordinance in this regard.

The Ordinance, which has been approved by the state cabinet, envisages delimitation of local bodies ahead of the civic polls by mid-2020.

The stand taken by the Governor may hinder measures for ward delimitation and preparation of new voters’ list. As reported earlier, Khan has already informally conveyed to A C Moideen, the Minister for Local Self-Governments, his intention not to give nod to the said Ordinance and urged to move a bill in the legislature and get it passed.

Now, it is the state government's call to press on with the Ordinance or move a Bill. The state government could obviate the current uncertainty and also bypass the Governor by moving a bill in the Assembly. However, the Governor has still the option of not giving assent to the bill passed by the legislature.

The central government has already written to the state against delimitation of wards after December 31, 2019 in view of the upcoming Census. The missive by the centre quoted the Census Act of 1948. However, the Pinarayi government is interested in redrawing the territorial limits of the civic bodies based on the previous Census conducted a decade ago.

The Kerala Governor has already taken the stand that he would not sign an Ordinance that was against a central law.

Following this, the state government as part of its efforts to bypass the Governor decided to give legal sanctity to the delimitation process. This was because there was no need for prior sanction of the Governor for bringing in legislation that don't have any financial impact. However, as in the case of all legislation, the new one would get legal status only if the Governor gave his assent.

What a Governor can do

As per Article 200 of the Indian Constitution which deals with the powers of the Governor with regard to bills passed by the State legislature, the constitutional authority has four options when a Bill passed by the legislature of a state is presented to him: he can give assent to the Bill, withhold assent, he can reserve the Bill for the consideration of the President or he can return the bill to the Legislature for reconsideration.

However, as per Article 201, when a Bill is reserved by a Governor the House can reconsider it within six months from the date of receipt of such message. If it is again passed by the House with or without amendment, it has to be presented again to the Governor for his consideration. In the normal case, Governor gives assent to bills in such cases. However, there is no option before the government if the Governor refused to sign this bill once again.

Also, it is the Governor's prerogative to forward a bill to the President and the latter may or may not give assent. Such a situation arose with the Kerala Women's Commission Bill passed by the Assembly in 1990. The Governor sent the bill for the consent of the President the same year. However, the bill was pending for five years before the President and the Kerala Women's Commission Act was finally passed in September 15, 1995 as the former gave assent. Finally, the first Women's Commission of the state was formed in 996 during the tenure of A. K. Antony as Chief Minister.

It was only in 2017 Governor P. Sathasivam had sent back the Kerala Maritime Board Bill passed in 2014 by the previous UDF government to secure around Rs 1,000 crore central aid for developing the minor ports in the state.

Even now three bills seeking assent are before the Governor.  

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