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SC pulls up Punjab CM, Governor over spat on budget session, says both are duty-bound

SC pulls up Punjab CM, Governor over spat on budget session, says both are duty-bound

Punjab Governor Banwarilal Purohit has summoned the state Assembly for budget session on March 3.

With Punjab Governor Banwarilal Purohit deciding to convene the Budget Session of the Assembly from March 3, the Supreme Court on Tuesday disposed of a plea challenging the delay in the Governor’s action, but not before conveying its disillusionment over the actions of both Chief Minister Bhagwant Singh Mann and the Governor, which precipitated matters.

Appearing for the AAP government, senior advocate A M Singhvi accused that the Governor had “hijacked the Constitution”, while Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Governor, said the dispute had its genesis in the Governor seeking information on certain administrative matters from the CM and the latter using “street language” in reply.

Making evident its disenchantment with both parties, a bench of Chief Justice of India D Y Chandrachud and Justice P S Narasimha said, “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 dereliction of constitutional duty imposed on the Chief Minister in terms of Article 167 (B). Yet, dereliction of the Chief Minister to do so would not furnish a justification for the Governor not to comply with plain constitutional obligation to summon the House for its Budget Session in terms of the advice tendered by the Council of Ministers.”

The Bench said the Chief Minister is “clearly duty-bound to furnish” the information and “the tone and tenor” of the tweet and the letter by Mann left “much to be desired”.

The court also reminded that the power to summon, prorogue and dissolve the Assembly is enshrined in Article 174 of the Constitution. “In terms of constitutional jurisprudence,” it said, “the decision of a 7-judge constitution bench in Shamsher Singh vs State of Punjab (1974) has clearly laid down that the Governor is a constitutional or formal head of state and exercises his powers and functions on the aid and advise of the Council of Ministers.”

The Bench said, “In view of the clear constitutional provision, there can be no manner of doubt that the authority entrusted to the Governor to summon each House of the legislature of a state is to be exercised on the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers. This is not a constitutional power in which the Governor is entitled to exercise his own discretion.

“In the present case, the Governor was not summoning the House for the first time following (an) election but was advised by the Council of Ministers to convene the budget session at the behest of a government, which has been duly elected in the election. Clearly the Governor was duty-bound to do so.”

The Bench pointed out that “the communication of the Governor dated Feb 23, 2023” in response to the request of the Council of Ministers to summon the House “evidently refers to the cabinet decisions. However, the Governor referred to the tweet of the Chief Minister and to the letter dated February 14, and proceeded to state that since both the tweet and the letter were ‘petty unconstitutional but extremely derogatory’, he was compelled to take legal advice ‘on this issue’ and that he would decide on the request thereafter.”

The court said that 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.”

The Bench stressed that the “failure of one constitutional authority to fulfil its obligations under a distinct provision of the Constitution do not furnish a justification to another to decline to fulfil its own constitutional obligation”.

The court also counseled the two sides for the need to maintain decorum in public discourse among constitutional functionaries.

The Bench said that “while” it is “cognisant of the importance of free speech and expression and the fundamental value embodied in Article 19(1)(a), it becomes necessary to emphasise that constitutional discourse has to be conducted with a sense of decorum and mature statesmanship, particularly in the context of the constitutional dialogue which is conducted between functionaries”.

The SC said that “political differences in a democratic polity are acceptable and have to be worked out with a sense of sobriety and maturity without allowing the discourse to degenerate into a race to the bottom”.

It said that “unless these principles were to be borne in mind, the effective implementation of constitutional values is liable to be placed in jeopardy…”

Stating that it is “inconceivable” that the Budget session would not be convened, the Bench said, “We can only hope that mature constitutional statesmanship would ensure that such instances do not occur in the future as much as we reiterate our expectation that constitutional functionaries must be deeply cognisant of the public trust in the offices which they occupy. The public trust entrusted to them is intended to subserve the cause of our citizens and to ensure that the affairs of the nation are conducted with a sense of maturity…”

©Indian Express

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