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Governors can play a vital role in smoothening wrinkles in the federal setup (IANS Opinion)

Governors can play a vital role in smoothening wrinkles in the federal setup (IANS Opinion)

By Sumit Saxena

Some of the governors' conduct has become a subject of intense public debate, especially after the drama which recently unfolded during the address of Tamil Nadu Governor R.N. Ravi to the legislative assembly to open the new year's first session.


On a larger canvas the tiff between the governor and the state government has not been limited to the address to the assembly rather it emerged from several friction points: not acting in accordance with the advice of an elected state government, having critical views about the state government and relaying them to the media without exercising restraint, remission of sentence of convicts, delaying a decision in giving assent to bills which have been passed by the legislative assembly, etc.

The Supreme Court had said the governor's action should be to protect the Constitution and not to promote any political party's interest. The apex court had also said that the governor of a state is "but a shorthand expression for the state government" while exercising powers of clemency under Article 161 of the Constitution. It said this in a judgment releasing Rajiv Gandhi assassination case convict A.G. Perarivalan in May last year.

Some opposition-ruled states are brimming over with anger. The differences between the governor of Kerala, Arif Mohammad Khan, and the state government is not a secret and the sourness has spilled over to the state governments of Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Telangana -- they all have issues with their governors.

In November last year, Tamil Nadu's ruling coalition submitted a memorandum to President Droupadi Murmu seeking the removal of governor RN Ravi saying he was unfit to hold office. Ratcheting up hostilities with Raj Bhavan and the open confrontation between the governors and state governments is forcing a thought into the minds of many -- isn't it a sign of a weakening of the constitutional order. The scenario begs the question: Who will correct the distortions which threaten an established system.

A number of decisions of the constitution benches of the Supreme Court settle the powers and functions of the governor.

The Supreme Court had examined the powers and functions of the governor in Shamsher Singh v State of Punjab (1974). The apex court held that the governor can act only on the aid and advice of the council of ministers and executive powers -- which are vested in the elected government -- cannot be enjoyed by the governor. In Nabam Rebia v Deputy Speaker (2016), the Supreme Court emphasized that the governor can act only on the advice of the council of ministers.

In January 2013, upholding the appointment of Justice R.A. Mehta as Gujarat Lokayukta by Governor Kamla Beniwal, the apex court said: "It is evident that the Governor enjoys complete immunity under Article 361(1) and that under this, his/her actions cannot be challenged for the reason that the Governor acts only upon the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers. If this was not the case, democracy itself would be in peril."

"The Governor is not answerable to either the House of the State or Parliament or even to the Council of Ministers, and his/her acts cannot be subject to judicial review. In such a situation, unless he/she acts upon the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers, he/she will become all powerful, and this is an anti-thesis to the concept of democracy."

Therefore, a state governor is a constitutional figurehead who enjoys no real power. A good governor, however, can play a vital role in smoothening federal friction and further bolstering the Centre-state relationship.

But governors can also create problems for the state governments by sitting on a Bill, brought by the government when there is an urgent need for a law on a particular matter, duly passed by the legislative assembly is presented for assent.

Article 200 of the constitution provides four options to the governor: to give assent, withhold assent, return the Bill to the assembly for reconsideration, or reserve it for the consideration of the President.

The Constitution does not provide an option to the governor to not take a decision indefinitely, however the Constitution also does not lay down a timeline for the governor to take a time bound decision. Also, there is no decision of the apex court in connection with laying down a timeline.

Source: IANS

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Governors can play a vital role in smoothening wrinkles in the federal setup (IANS Opinion)

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