Governors of states cannot veto the functioning of the Legislature or keep bills placed before them for assent pending indefinitely, the Supreme Court has ruled.

The judgement, released on November 10 and made public on Thursday, came on a petition filed by the Punjab government against Governor Banwarilal Purohit. The Aam Aadmi Party government had accused Purohit of not acting on seven bills passed by the state’s Legislature.

Bills passed by legislatures become law only after the governor signs off on them. Article 200 of the Constitution gives governors the power to either grant their approval to a bill, reject it or in some cases, reserve it for the president’s consideration “as soon as possible”.

In its judgement, the bench headed by Chief Justice DY Chandrachud said that the expression “as soon as possible” in Article 200 conveys a “constitutional imperative of expedition”.

“Failure to take a call and keeping a bill duly passed for indeterminate periods is a course of action inconsistent with that expression,” the court said. “Constitutional language is not surplusage...The governor cannot be at liberty to keep the bill pending indefinitely without any action whatsoever.”

The governor cannot be allowed to “virtually veto” the functioning of the Legislature by declaring that assent is withheld, without any further recourse, the bench said. “Such a course of action would be contrary to fundamental principles of a constitutional democracy based on a parliamentary pattern of governance,” the bench said.

“The governor, as an unelected head of the state, is entrusted with certain constitutional powers,” it added. “However, this power cannot be used to thwart the normal course of lawmaking by the state legislatures.”

Also read: Pocket vetoed: Governors are sitting on bills – and undermining federalism

The top court also ruled that while the governor may recommend reconsideration of the entire bill or a portion, the decision on accepting this advice belongs to the Legislature.

While hearing the matter on November 6, the Supreme Court had observed verbally that governors should not be oblivious to the fact that they are not elected authorities.

Two other state governments have moved the Supreme Court in recent weeks against inaction by governors on bills placed before them assent.

In its plea, the Kerala government told the court on November 2 that Governor Arif Mohammed Khan’s delay in considering eight bills waiting for his assent threatens to subvert the foundations of the Constitution and defeat the rights of the people of the state. Three of the eight bills have been pending with the governor for more than two years. Three other bills have been pending for over a year, the state government said.

This came days after the Tamil Nadu government moved the top court accusing Governor RN Ravi of obstructing the Legislative Assembly from carrying out its duties. In its petition, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam government alleged that Ravi has not only kept multiple bills pending but has also not sanctioned the investigation and prosecution of several corruption cases.