Show mature statesmanship, Supreme Court tells Governors, Chief Ministers

Source: The post is based on the article “Show mature statesmanship, Supreme Court tells Governors, Chief Ministers” published in The Hindu on 1st March, 2023

What is the News?

The Supreme Court observed that the level of discourse between a chief minister and the governor must not degenerate into a “race to the bottom”, putting the implementation of constitutional values and affairs of the nation in jeopardy.

What was the case about?

Punjab Governor questioned Punjab CMs decision to send a batch of school principals to Singapore for training. 

Punjab Chief Minister wrote back to the Governor saying that he was answerable only to Punjabis and not any Governor appointed by the Centre.

Later, when the Governor was approached by the State Cabinet to convene the Budget Session, the Governor wrote back saying that he would consider convening the Assembly only after taking “legal advice”. 

The Governor’s inaction prompted the Punjab CM to approach the Supreme Court directly. 

Can the Governor refuse to summon the assembly?

The Governor has to act according to the aid and advice of the council of ministers. Constitutionally, the office of the Governor has little discretion to not act on the cabinet’s advice.

Under Article 174, a Governor shall summon the House at a time and place, as she or he thinks fit. Article 174 (2) (a) says a Governor may from “time to time” prorogue the House and 174 (2) (b) allows her or him to dissolve the Legislative Assembly.

Article 163(1) of the Constitution says that “there shall be a council of Ministers with the Chief Minister at the head to aid and advise the Governor in the exercise of his functions, except in so far as he is by or under this constitution required to exercise his functions or any of them in his discretion”.

A joint reading of the two provisions leaves the Governor with minimal discretion in summoning the house.

In 2016, the SC (in Nabam Rebia case) held that the power to summon the House is not solely vested in the Governor.

What were the observations made by the Supreme Court?

The Governor has a right to seek information from the Chief Minister in terms of Article 167(B) on matters relating to the administration of affairs of the state and proposals for legislation. 

Once such information is sought, not furnishing the information would be a dereliction of constitutional duty imposed on the Chief Minister in terms of Article 167 (B). 

However, dereliction of the Chief Minister to do so would not furnish a justification for the Governor not to comply with the plain constitutional obligation to summon the House for its Budget Session in terms of the advice tendered by the Council of Ministers.

Hence, there was no occasion to seek legal advice on whether or not the budget session should be convened. The Governor is clearly bound by the advice tendered to him by the Council of Ministers.

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