News Excerpt

In yet another tug-of-war between Kerala Governor and Chief Minister, the Governor has turned down a request to summon a special sitting of the Assembly to debate the new three central farm laws.

The state government had written to the Governor and, after the denial, is mulling approaching him again with the same request. The episode raises questions on the role of a Governor and the contours of the powers he or she has under the Constitution.

Pre-Connect

  • Article 174 of the Constitution puts on the Governor the responsibility of ensuring that the House is summoned at least once every six months. Governor is also vested with the power prorogue and dissolve the assembly.
  • Although it is the Governor’s prerogative to summon the House, according to Article 163, the Governor is required to act on the “aid and advice” of the Cabinet. So, when the Governor summons the House under Article 174, this is not of his or her own will but on the aid and advice of the Cabinet.
  • There are a few instances when the Governor can summon the House despite the refusal of the Chief Minister who heads the Cabinet. When the Chief Minister appears to have lost the majority and the legislative members of the House propose a no-confidence motion against the Chief Minister, then the Governor can decide on his or her own on summoning the House.
  • But the actions of the Governor, when using his discretionary powers can be challenged in court.

Analytica

  • In this particular instance, since the Governor’s powers are limited with regard to summoning the House, there can be no legal ground to deny a request for summoning the session.
  • Governor of Kerala has in the past criticized the Kerala Assembly’s resolution against the centre’s Citizenship Amendment Act of 2019.
  • These actions are an encroachment upon the powers of the legislature and the democratically elected government and an abuse of authority as a nominal head under the Constitution. Such conduct by a Governor can weaken the spirit of federalism.
  • The political nature of the office of the Governor, especially in opposition-ruled states, has been underlined in several instances by courts.
  • The misuse of the Governor’s office to undermine duly elected State governments is a particularly mischievous disruption of federalism.
  • The constitutional checks and balances and landmark judicial rulings account for this and limit the discretionary powers of the Governor.
  • SC has noted that the theory of Cabinet responsibility is decisively ingrained in our constitutional democracy and that our Constitution does not accept any "parallel administration” or “diarchy”
  • In another instance of strained ties between the two constitutional functionaries. Chief Minister and the Governor of Puducherry have been at loggerheads over many matters, most recently on the appointment of the State Election Commissioner, an office critical to holding elections to local bodies. But the principal issue of contention is the implementation of direct benefit transfer in the public distribution system using cash, instead of free rice, being given to the beneficiaries.

Way Forward

Judiciary read the power to summon the House as a “function” of the Governor and not a “power” he enjoys. Even the Sarkaria Commission of 1983, which reviewed the arrangements between the Centre and the states, had said that “so long as the Council of Ministers enjoys the confidence of the Assembly, its advice in these matters, unless patently unconstitutional must be deemed as binding on the Governor. The post of Governor is invested with dignity and decorum unique to our Constitution. It demands commendable personal integrity and character on the individuals who functions to prove their mettle and merit.