New Delhi, February 28
The constitutional crisis over Punjab Governor Banwari Lal Purohit’s refusal to summon the budget session of the assembly from March 3 was blown over on Tuesday with the Supreme Court saying that the Governor was duty-bound to follow the advice of the state cabinet on the issue.
A Bench led by Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud, however, disapproved of the conduct of both the Governor Purohit and Chief Minister Bhgwant Mann for letting their political differences come in the way of discharging their constitutional duties.
“The budget session would not be convened is simply inconceivable… from both sides there is dereliction,” said the Bench -- which also included Justice PS Narasimha.
While hearing Punjab Government’s petition against the Governor’s refusal to summon the budget session, the Bench cited Constitution Bench judgments to emphasize that the Governor’s power to summon the assembly under Article 174 of the Constitution has to be exercised on the aid and advice of the council of the ministers.
“In view of the clear constitutional provision, there can be no manner of doubt that the authority which is vested with the Governor to summon the house is to be exercised on the aid and advice of the council of ministers. It’s not a constitutional power which the Governor is entitled to exercise on his discretion”.
The top court said the Chief Minister was also duty-bound to furnish information sought by the Governor.
“Under Article 167(b) of the Constitution, when the Governor asks you to furnish information - you're duty bound to furnish it to him. Ask one of your secretaries to respond. At the same time, once the cabinet says budget session has to be convened, he is duty-bound,” the Bench said, terming his tweets and statements against the Governor as “extremely derogatory and patently unconstitutional”.
The top court said the tone and tenor in the letter of the Chief Minister “leaves much to be desired”. At the same time, the “dereliction of the Chief Minister” was not a justification for the Governor to not summon the house, the Bench said, adding the Constitutional dialogue between the functionaries should be done with matured statesmanship.
“The failure of one constitutional authority to fulfil his duty would not be a justification for another not to fulfill his distinct duty under Constitution,” it said.
At the outset of the hearing, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta informed the top court that Punjab Governor Banwari Lal Purohit has already summoned the House for budget session from March 3 and that the Punjab Government's petition has become infructuous.
“The Governor is now making a virtue out of necessity after the state approached the Supreme Court. Is this the way the Governor is supposed to act? He has hijacked the Constitution,” Singhvi told the Bench.
The Bench said, “Political differences in a democratic polity is acceptable and has to be worked out with a sense of propriety and maturity without having to race to the bottom. Unless these features are adhered to, Constitutional principles will be put to jeopardy.”
“There must be in our public discourse, a certain constitutional discourse. We may belong to different political parties, office the Governor is not from a party… we have to have a constitutional discourse,” it noted.
Singhvi said the Punjab Government was forced to move the Supreme Court due to the Governor’s refusal to summon the assembly for budget session. “The Governor is supposed to function as per the Constitution. If he goes by discretion, a budget session would not convene. Does he understand the meaning of budget session?” Singhvi submitted.
Mehta pointed out that the Chief Minister had used extremely inappropriate language in his letters to the Governor.
The Solicitor General said the Governor did not refuse to summon the assembly but only said that he will take a decision after getting legal advice on certain statements made by the Chief Minister. “Look at the level of discourse. Street level language is used…,” Mehta said about CM's reply to Governor's letter seeking certain details.
Earlier, the matter was mentioned by senior advocate AM Singhvi before the CJI-led Bench which agreed to take it up after the Constitution Bench matter relating to Maharashtra got over.
On behalf of the Punjab Government, Singhvi said that only because the Chief Minister made certain intemperate comments, the Governor can't refuse to summon the budget session.
Purohit had reportedly refused permission to the government to summon the Budget session till he had taken legal advice on the tweets and letter written by Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann.
Filed under Article 32 of the Constitution, the Punjab Government's petition contended that under the constitutional scheme, the Governor is bound to summon the assembly as per the aid and advice given to him by the elected government.
On Thursday, when the AAP government held its first Progressive Punjab Investors’ Summit, the Governor sent a letter to the CM, saying he would decide whether to allow the Budget session on March 3, only after he had sought legal advice on the “extremely derogatory and patently constitutional tweets and letter” written by CM Mann in response to his letter sent earlier this month.
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