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'Grave perils to democracy': SC on Punjab Guv delaying action on bills

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday declared Punjab Assembly sessions held on June 19 and 20 as constitutionally valid and told Governor Banwarilal Purohit to process the bills sent for his assent.

A bench of Chief Justice of India D Y Chandrachud and Justices J B Pardiwala and Manoj Misra said the Governor “must proceed to take a decision on the bills submitted for assent.”

Taking up a plea by the Punjab government against delay by the Governor, the bench, in strong observations, told his counsel Satyapal Jain, “Do you realise the gravity of the situation? you’re playing with fire.”

As Singhvi contended the Governor doubted the validity of the Speaker’s decision to hold the sessions in June, the bench asked, “How can the Governor say this? We are not happy with what is happening in Punjab. Will we continue to be a parliamentary democracy?”

The bench said, “We are of the view that there is no valid constitutional basis to cast doubt on the validity of the session of the Vidhan Sabha which was held on June 19 and June 20, 2023. Any attempt to cast doubt on the session of the legislature would be fraught with grave perils to democracy.”

Dictating a detailed order, the bench said the Speaker who has been recognised to be the guardian of the privileges of the House and the constitutionally recognised authority who represents the House, was acting well within his jurisdiction in adjourning the House sine die.

The bench said that the convening of the House in June was within the ambit of the Rule 16 procedure and conduct of business of Punjab Vidhan Sabha.

“Casting doubt on the validity of the session of the House is not a constitutional option open to the Governor. The legislative assembly comprises duly elected members of the legislature,” the bench said.

In its order, the apex court said, “During the tenure of the assembly, a House is governed by decision taken by the Speaker in matters of adjournment….Governor of Punjab now must proceed to take a decision on the bills submitted for assent on the basis of the sitting of the House which conducted on June 19-20, was constitutionally valid.”

It added, “We clarify that we have not expressed any opinion in regard to the constitutional authority of the Governor and regard to the manner in which he will exercise his jurisdiction consistent with the Article 200 of the Constitution.”

The Punjab government filed a plea alleging delay by the Governor in giving assent to bills passed by the state assembly.

The bench said, “It must be noted that in a Parliamentary form of democracy, real power rests with the elected representatives of the people. The Governor, as an appointee of President, is the titular head of State.”

Senior advocate Jain, appearing for Secretary to the Governor, cited Article 174 of the Constitution to contend that the Budget session was extended indefinitely.

The bench said the Speaker’s powers to adjourn the session cannot be misused to keep the House in a suspended animation permanently. There has to be three sessions of the House in a year and one session cannot be allowed to be indefinitely extended, the bench said.

“All this subterfuge does not augur well for democracy,” the bench said.

(Published 10 November 2023, 10:42 IST)

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