The Kerala government has moved the Supreme Court against President Droupadi Murmu withholding assent to four of the seven bills referred to her by Governor Arif Mohammed Khan, reported Live Law on Saturday.

The state has also challenged the governor’s action of referring the bill to the president. The Left Democratic Front government has contended that none of the bills related to the state-Centre relations and that is why it does not require presidential assent.

In November last year, Khan had sent the seven bills for the president’s assent after the Supreme Court told him that governors cannot veto the functioning of the Legislature.

On February 29, Murmu withheld assent to the University Laws Amendment (Number 2) Bill, 2021, Kerala Co-operative Societies Amendment Bill, 2022, University Laws Amendment Bill, 2022, the University Laws Amendment (Number 3) Bill, 2022.

She granted her assent to only one bill while the decision is pending on two others referred to her, according to Bar and Bench.

Kerala has told the court that the president did not give any reasoning behind her decision. “This is a highly arbitrary action, violating Article 14 of the Constitution, as well as Article 200 and 201 thereof,” it said.

Article 14 of the Constitution deals with the right to equality and says that the state shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within India.

Article 200 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”. Article 201 states that when a bill is reserved by a governor for the consideration of the president, the president shall declare either that he assents to the bill or that he withholds assent.

The state government has said that the president withholding assent to bills that were passed by the state Legislature 11 to 24 months ago “subverts and disrupts” the federal structure of the Constitution.

With regard to the governor, Kerala said Khan kept some of the bills pending for as long as two years, which “subverted the functioning of the legislature of the state and rendered its existence itself ineffective and otiose”.

“The bills include public interest bills which are for the public good, and even these have been rendered ineffective by the Governor not dealing with each one of them ‘as soon as possible’ as required by the proviso to Article 200,” the Pinarayi Vijayan-led government told the Supreme Court.

It contended that it was obvious there was a “deliberate attempt” on the governor’s part to “avoid” carrying out his constitutional duty function.

In view of this, Kerala urged the top court to declare that the act of the president to withhold assent to four bills without “stating any reason whatsoever” is unconstitutional.

The state has also prayed for declaring the governor’s act of reserving the seven bills for presidential assent as unconstitutional and sought Khan to give assent to six bills.

Kerala’s plea against governor

On November 2, the Kerala government moved the Supreme Court against the delay by Khan in considering bills waiting for his assent.

The state told the court that Khan’s delay in considering eight bills 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.

“Many of the bills involve immense public interest, and provide for welfare measures which would stand deprived and denied to the people of the State to the extent of the delay,” the petition said. “Grave injustice is being done to the people of the State, as also to its representative democratic institutions.”

On November 24, the Supreme Court asked the governor to go through its November 10 verdict stating that governors cannot veto the functioning of the Legislature or keep bills placed before them for assent pending indefinitely.

Following this, Khan approved the Kerala Public Health Bill, 2022. The law proposes that public health protection should be beyond mere diagnosis and curative services.