Kerala Governor sends seven bills he’s unhappy with for President’s consideration

Arif Mohammad Khan | File Photo: J SURESH / Manorama
Kerala Governor Arif Mohammed Khan. File Photo: J Suresh/Manorama

Thiruvananthapuram: Four days after the Supreme Court asked him to read its judgment in the Punjab Governor's case, Kerala Governor Arif Mohammad Khan has taken recourse to the only option he is left with to frustrate the Kerala Government. On Tuesday, he referred seven bills he disapproved of to the President of India. However, he gave assent to one bill-the Kerala Public Health Bill.

The Supreme Court, in Punjab Governor Banwarilal Purohit's case, said that the Governor, even if he has problems in granting consent, should necessarily return the Bill to the Legislature for re-legislation. And if these bills return without the changes asked for, the governor has no power to withhold consent.

The court said the governor had only three options when a Bill passed by a legislature comes for his assent. One, grant his consent. Two, withhold consent but send the Bill back "as soon as possible" to be reconsidered. Three, refer the Bill to the President. 

The court made it clear that a Governor could not let a bill die, and could not indefinitely stall a bill without taking any action. It underlined that the final word rests with the Legislature and not with a non-elected nominal head of state. As a consequence, in the case of seven sensitive bills, Arif Mohammad Khan has opted for the third option of referring them to the President.

These include the University Laws Amendment Bill (1st Amendment); University Laws Amendment Bill (2nd Amendment); APJ Abdul Kalam Technical University Bill; Kerala Co-operative Societies Amendment Bill; and Kerala LokAyukta Amendment Bill. Some of the bills, like the University Laws have been passed for over a year. 

The University Laws stripped the Governor of his powers as chancellor and the Lok Ayukta Bill transferred the Governor’s power to act against corruption in high places to the State Legislature. However, the Governor has given his consent to the Public Health Bill, which creates a three-tier public health system at the state, district and local level, and designates existing health officials as public health authorities. The Governor had reservations about the Bill as it was felt that alternative medical practitioners like Ayurveda and homeo doctors were discriminated against.

Kerala Government had told the Supreme Court that bills passed by the Kerala Legislature were pending with the Governor for eight to 23 months. Kerala's lawyers told the court that the Governor was attempting to undermine the will of the people by refusing to act on the bills passed by the Legislature, including those of immense public importance like the Public Health Bill. It was then that Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud asked the Kerala Governor's secretary to go through the court's Punjab judgment. 

The Kerala government had moved the Supreme Court against the Governor on November 2. "The conduct of the Governor, as would presently be demonstrated, threatens to defeat and subvert the very fundamentals and basic foundations of our Constitution, including the rule of law and democratic good governance, apart from defeating the rights of the people of the State to the welfare measures sought to be implemented through the Bills," the state government said in its plea. 

The Kerala Governor had always taken the stand that the Chief Minister was shirking his Constitutional obligation to brief him on matters of the state. The Governor had also snubbed ministers and senior officials who had arrived to brief him on behalf of the Chief Minister.

Arif Mohammad Khan was combative even after the Supreme Court asked the Raj Bhavan secretary to read the Punjab judgment. "If the Supreme Court had said so, it should also provide the copy of the judgment," Khan told reporters on November 26. He called the Supreme Court a "holy cow".

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