Calcutta High Court: While deciding a public interest litigation (PIL) concerning the pending assent by Governor on West Bengal University Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2022, a division bench comprising of I.P. Mukerji and Hiranmay Bhattacharyya, JJ., directed that an affidavit-in-opposition be filed by the office of the Governor, disclosing the current status of the bill. The Court also directed the petitioner to file an affidavit-in-reply by 13-10-2023.
In the instant matter, the petitioner preferred a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) seeking a mandamus order, compelling the Governor to promptly grant assent to the West Bengal University Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2022, which was passed by the State legislature on 07-06-2022, and subsequently forwarded to the Governor on 15-06-2022, for approval.
Union of India’s Contentions
The Deputy Solicitor General representing the Union of India (respondent 2), raises several points challenging the maintainability of this writ application. He contended that there is no urgency compelling the court, which has jurisdiction for a limited period, to address this matter. He further contended that the writ petitioner, being a political functionary, lacks the locus standi to maintain the writ application and alleges that the petitioner has not come forward with clean hands.
Citing Article 361 of the Constitution of India in conjunction with Article 212, he asserted that the Governor enjoys immunity from being questioned or made answerable before any court concerning the discharge of official duties.
The Deputy Solicitor General prayed for the dismissal of the writ application and, if not dismissed, requests directions for filing affidavits.
The petitioners contended that Article 200 of the Constitution of India offers the Governor three options concerning the bill. granting assent, withholding assent with or without suggestions for reconsideration, or sending it to the President of India. It was contended that none of these three options has been exercised in this case, and the bill is pending consideration before the Governor.
Citing Article 163 of the Constitution, the petitioners contended that in matters of assent to a bill, the Governor is obligated to act in accordance with the advice of the Council of Ministers.
The petitioners referred to Nabam Rebia v. Deputy Speaker, Arunachal Pradesh Legislative Assembly, (2016) 8 SCC 1 and contended that Article 361 does not bar the court from entertaining such matters. It was further contended that the Supreme Court entertained grievances related to assent to bills in those two cases.
The petitioners emphasised that whether the Governor is “answerable” under Article 361 of the Constitution can only be determined after the filing of affidavits. The Court can then decide whether the decisions made earlier permit further inquiry into this matter. It was asserted that the question of the writ’s maintainability can only be considered after the submission and review of affidavits.
Regarding the background and locus standi of the writ petitioner, the petitioners highlighted that the writ application was admitted on 16-05-2023, without any subsequent steps taken to dismiss it on these grounds. It was argued that the constitutional nature and significance of the issues involved make this writ deserving of consideration in the public interest.
The Court observed that the writ petitioner’s background and locus standi have not been challenged since the admission of the writ application. The Court acknowledged that the constitutional significance of the issues involved makes the case deserving of consideration in the public interest. The Court opined that the question of maintainability can only be decided after filing and consideration of affidavits.
The Court observed that the Governor has three options under Article 200, granting assent, sending the bill to the President, or remitting the bill to the legislature for reconsideration. The Court emphasised that if the bill is returned to the legislature with or without amendments, the Governor is required to give assent under Article 200.
The Court directed the office of the Governor to file an affidavit-in-opposition, disclosing the bill’s current status, by 04-10-2023, and directed the petitioner to submit an affidavit-in-reply by 13-10-2023.
The writ application is listed for consideration on 16-10-2023.
[Sayan Mukherjee v. State of W.B., 2023 SCC OnLine Cal 2847, order dated 12-09-2023]
Advocates who appeared in this case :
Mr. L.K. Gupta, Sr. Adv. And Mr. Achintya Kumar Banerjee, Counsel for the Petitioners
Mr. Tapan Kumar Mukherjee, AGP Mr. Somnath Naskar, Counsel for the Respondent 3
Mr. Billwadal Bhattacharyya, DSG Mr. Ayanabha Raha, Counsel for the Union of India