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While ruling very rightly most favourably in favour of the powers of Speaker to reconvene a sitting of Vidhan Sabha which pertains to the Punjab Government's plea challenging the Governor's inaction on four Bills that were passed by the State Legislature which was decided by the Supreme Court on November 10 but was uploaded on November 23, a three Judge Bench of the Apex Court in a most learned, laudable, landmark and latest judgment titled State of Punjab vs Principal Secretary to the Governor of Punjab and Another in Writ Petition (Civil) No. 1224 of 2023 minced just no words absolutely to hold that reconvening a sitting of the Vidhan Sabha which had not been prorogued was permissible in law and is within the exclusive domain of the Speaker. The Apex Court also held that if a Governor decides to withhold assent to a Bill, then he has to return the Bill to the legislature for reconsideration. Thus, we see that it was held by the top court that it was legally permissible for the Speaker to reconvene the sitting of the Vidhan Sabha after it was adjourned sine die without prorogation. Also, the Apex Court very rightly held that, "Further, the Speaker was empowered as the sole custodian of the proceedings of the House to adjourn and reconvene the House." No denying it!

At the very outset, this brief, brilliant, bold and balanced judgment authored by CJI Dr DY Chandrachud, JB Pardiwala and Manoj Misra sets the ball in motion by first and foremost putting forth in para 1 that, "The jurisdiction of this Court under Article 32 of the Constitution has been invoked by the State of Punjab. The Government of Punjab is aggrieved on the ground that the Governor did not (i) assent to four Bills which were passed by the Vidhan Sabha nor have they been returned; and (ii) furnish a recommendation for the introduction of certain Money Bills in the Vidhan Sabha."

Factual Background

To put things in perspective, the Bench envisages in para 2 that, "On 22 February 2023, the Council of Ministers of the Government of Punjab forwarded a recommendation to the Governor of Punjab seeking the summoning of the Punjab Vidhan Sabha for its Budget Session commencing on 3 March 2023. The Governor's refusal to do so, on the ground that he was seeking legal advice, led to the institution of a petition before this Court on 25 February 2023. On 28 February 2023, this Court delivered its judgment in the State of Punjab v. Principal Secretary to the Governor of Punjab Writ Petition (Civil) No. 302 of 2023. This Court observed that:

"There was no occasion to seek legal advice on whether or not the Budget Session of the Legislative Assembly should be convened. The Governor was plainly bound by the advice tendered to him by the Council of Ministers.""

Do note, the Bench notes in para 4 that, "Following the decision of this Court, the Sixteenth Punjab Vidhan Sabha was summoned on 3 March 2023. The Speaker adjourned the session sine die on 22 March 2023. On 12 June 2023, acting in pursuance of the powers conferred by the second proviso to Rule 16 of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in the Punjab Vidhan Sabha (Punjab Legislative Assembly) (Rules of Procedure), the Speaker reconvened the sitting of the session of the Vidhan Sabha on 19 and 20 June 2023. During the course of the session, the Vidhan Sabha passed four Bills, namely:

(i) The Sikh Gurdwaras (Amendment) Bill 2023;

(ii) Punjab Affiliated Colleges (Security of Service) (Amendment) Bill 2023;

(iii) Punjab Universities Law (Amendment) Bill 2023; and

(iv) Punjab Police (Amendment) Bill 2023

No action was taken by the Governor on these Bills."

As we see, the Bench discloses in para 5 that, "Thereafter, the session of the Vidhan Sabha was sought to be reconvened on 19 October 2023 since the following three Money Bills were to be introduced:

(i) The Punjab Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management (Amendment) Bill, 2023;

(ii) The Punjab Goods and Services Tax (Amendment) Bill 2023; and

(iii) The Indian Stamp (Punjab Amendment) Bill 2023 The recommendation of the Governor was required in terms of the provisions of Article 207(1) of the Constitution for the introduction of the Bill in the Vidhan Sabha."

While elaborating in detail, the Bench then laid bare in para 6 that, "Correspondence was exchanged between the Chief Minister and the Governor. On 15 July 2023, the Chief Minister addressed a communication to the Governor noting that though the Sikh Gurdwaras (Amendment) Bill 2023 was submitted for assent on 26 June 2023, it had not been assented to till then. In his response dated 17 July 2023, the Governor stated that:

"I have proceeded to receive legal advice which gives me to believe that your calling of Vidhan Sabha session on 19-6- 2023 and 20-6-2023 when these four Bills were passed was in breach of law and procedure"

The Governor thereby cast doubt on the legitimacy and legality of those Bills. The Governor stated that "in the background of the legal advice received" he was actively considering whether to obtain the legal opinion of the Attorney General for India "or as per the Constitution, to reserve these Bills for the consideration and consent of the President of India". The Governor stated that he would take action according to law after the legality of the Vidhan Sabha session which was held on 19 and 20 June 2023 is first examined."

Further, the Bench then discloses in para 7 succinctly stating that, "The Governor addressed another letter on 24 July 2023 to the Chief Minister annexing a "crux of legal opinion" obtained from a "constitutional expert", according to which "the House so summoned was patiently (sic) illegal". After the three Money Bills were forwarded to the Governor for consideration in the special session of the Fourth Budget Session of the Sixteenth Punjab Vidhan Sabha, proposed to be held from 20 October 2023, the Governor addressed a communication to the Chief Minister on 19 October 2023. He reiterated that in his previous communications dated 24 July 2023 and 12 October 2023, he had indicated that the calling of the session was "patently illegal, against the accepted procedures and practice of the legislature, and against the provisions of the Constitution". The Governor stated:

"As the Budget Session stood concluded, any such extended session is bound to be illegal, and any business conducted during such sessions is likely to be unlawful, and ab-initio void. Inspite of these communications, disregarding the possibility of taking an unconstitutional step, it appears that a decision has been taken to call the session. For these reasons I withhold my approval to the above mentioned Bills.""

Be it noted, the Bench notes in para 8 that, "Notably, the Governor did not 'declare' in any public notification that he is withholding his assent to the Bills. The Governor advised the Chief Minister to call for a fresh Monsoon/Winter Session and to forward an agenda setting out the specific business to be conducted so as to enable him to grant permission for the summoning of the House to transact the business."

Most forthrightly, the Bench mandates in para 39 that, "The Court observed that under Article 122(2), the decision of the Speaker in whom powers are vested to regulate the procedure and conduct of business is final and binding on every Member of the House. Hence, this Court held that the validity of the Speaker adjourning the House sine die and the later direction to resume sittings could not be inquired into on the ground of any irregularity of procedure. The Court reaffirmed that the business transacted and the validity of proceedings after the resumption of sittings of the House pursuant to the direction of the Speaker cannot be inquired by the courts. This follows the fundamental principle that it is the right of each House of the legislature to be the sole Judge of the lawfulness of its own proceedings so as to be immune from challenge before a court of law."

Quite significantly, the Bench then expounds in para 41 stating that, "Therefore, it was legally permissible for the Speaker to reconvene the sitting of the Vidhan Sabha after it was adjourned sine die without prorogation. Further, the Speaker was empowered as the sole custodian of the proceedings of the House to adjourn and reconvene the House."


Most significantly, what forms the cornerstone of this notable judgment is then encapsulated in para 44 wherein it is postulated that, "Bearing in mind the well settled principles which have been adverted to above, we are of the view that there is no valid constitutional basis to cast doubt on the validity of the session of the Vidhan Sabha which was held on 19 June 2023, 20 June 2023 and 20 October 2023. Any attempt to cast doubt on the session of the legislature would be replete with grave perils to democracy. The Speaker who has been recognized to be a guardian of the privileges of the House and the constitutionally recognized authority who represents the House, was acting well within his jurisdiction in adjourning the House sine die. The re-convening of the House was within the ambit of Rule 16 of the Rules of Procedure. Casting doubt on the validity of the session of the House is not a constitutional option open to the Governor. The Legislative Assembly comprises of duly elected Members of the Legislature. During the tenure of the Assembly, the House is governed by the decisions which are taken by the Speaker in matters of adjournment and prorogation. We are, therefore, of the view that the Governor of Punjab must now proceed to take a decision on the Bills which have been submitted for assent on the basis that the sitting of the House which was conducted on 19 June 2023, 20 June 2023 and 20 October 2023 was constitutionally valid."

For sake of clarity and as a piece of advice for Governor, the Bench holds in para 45 that, "We clarify that we have not expressed any opinion in regard to the manner in which the Governor will exercise his jurisdiction on the Bills in question presented to him. However, he must act in a manner consistent with the provisions of Article 200 of the Constitution."

In sum, we thus see quite ostensibly that the Apex Court has made the picture crystal clear that reconvening a sitting of the Vidhan Sabha which isn't prorogued is permissible in law and is within exclusive domain of Speaker. The Punjab Governor had withheld the assent on the Bills by stating that the June session, presented as an extension of the budget session was "bound to be illegal"! But we see that the Apex Court very decisively ruled in full favour of the immense powers of the Speaker! Very rightly so!

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