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State of Punjab v. Principal Secretary to the Governor of Punjab & Another : Case Comment

Gargi Bindal*


The Hon’ble Supreme Court of India in its recent judgment, tried to resolve a recent tussle between the Chief Minister of Punjab and the Governor of Punjab. The case, State of Punjab v. Principal Secretary to the Governor of Punjab & Another, revolves around a Constitutional crisis between the Governor of Punjab, Mr. Banwari Lal Purohit, and the Chief Minister of Punjab, Mr. Bhagwant Mann. The Government of Punjab’s Council of Ministers advised to summon the Budget Session of the Vidhan Sabha on March 3, 2023. The Governor of Punjab expressed his concern on certain issues before summoning the Budget session. The Chief Minister responded to the Governor's communication through a tweet and a letter. The Governor considered them to be “patently unconstitutional” and “extremely derogatory,” and sought legal advice on this issue before summoning the Budget Session. The failure of the Governor to summon the Budget Session’s Assembly has resulted in the State of Punjab invoking the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court under Article 32 of the Constitution. Their prayer is to seek a declaration that the Governor of Punjab, Banwari Lal Purohit is legally obligated by the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers in matters of proroguing or summoning of the Vidhan Sabha. 


The questions before the Hon’ble Court were that: 

  1. Whether the Governor holds the right to seek information and if the Government is obligated to provide the information sought.

  2. Whether the advice of the Council of Ministers, irrespective of the circumstances, binding on the Governor. 

The decision of the Supreme Court

The Hon’ble Supreme Court in order to answer the first question, held that under Article 167, the power of the Governor to seek information is to be read ingeniously because it empowers the Governor to carry out their duties effectively. Further, Article 174 of the Constitution provides the Governor, the authority to summon, prorogue and dissolve the legislative assembly on the advice of the Council of Ministers. In this particular constitutional domain, the Governor is bound by the Council of Ministers’ aid and advice and is not free to exercise his own discretion. To answer the second question, the Court referred to the case of Shamsher Singh v. State of Punjab and Nabam Rebia v. Dy. Speaker, Arunachal Pradesh, where the Hon’ble Court opined that the Governor of a state can be seen as the Constitutional or formal head who exercises the responsibilities on the advice of the Council of Ministers. 

In the present case, the Court held that it is the Constitutional duty of the Governor to call the Assembly on the advice of the Council of Ministers and that he was not required to consult with legal experts to summon the Budget Session of the Vidhan Sabha. Further, it was pointed out by the Court that the Governor has the power to seek information from the Chief Minister under Article 167(b) of the Constitution, with regard to the administration of state affairs and legislative proposals. And with respect to the same, the Chief Minister is under a Constitutional duty to provide the information sought.

The Court criticized the “tone” and “tenor” of the letter and the tweet by the Chief Minister stating that the Chief Minister’s failure to furnish the information constituted neglect of their Constitutional duty under Article 167.  However, the Court clarified that this was not a valid reason for the Governor to abstain from summoning the House. Therefore, the Court stated that both the Governor and Chief Minister were in dereliction of their duty and advised that Constitutional functionaries should handle political disagreements in a calm and responsible manner. 

Analysis of the Decision of the Court

The judgment excessively narrowed down the power of the Governor by neglecting to consider that the Governor has been granted discretionary powers. Furthermore, the discretionary power of the Governor has been termed in broader terms than the discretionary powers of the President. The Governor’s power, as outlined in Article 163(1) and (2) of the Constitution should be contextualised separately from the President's powers as the Constitution does not expressly grant the position of the President any discretion. The said distinction can never be neglected.

Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, justifying this vesting of power in the Constituent Assembly expressed the view that, “the provincial governments are required to work in subordination to the Central Government, the Governor will reserve certain things in order to give the President an opportunity to see that these rules under the provincial governments are supposed to act according to the Constitution or in subordination to the Central Government”.

The President is obligated to adhere to ministerial advice in all aspects of their duties, whereas the Governor only receives “aid & advice” from the Council of Ministers for functions beyond their discretionary authority. This distinction highlights the Governor's potential to act independently of ministers, a possibility that does not exist for the President. Additionally, following the 42nd Constitutional Amendment, ministerial advice was made binding on the President, however, the provision did not extend to the Governor. In contrast to the role of the President, the Governor is required to have a rather active role. 

Article 163 of the Constitution is silent about the dynamics between the Governor and his Council of Ministers in the non-discretionary area. The opinion of the Constituent Assembly favoured the discretionary power of the Governor and emphasized that he is not obligated to blindly follow the advice of the Council of Ministers, even in matters where they are bound to act on their advice. 

A discussion between the Governor and their Council of Ministers is important, and the Governor can raise objections to a proposed course of action and can ask for reconsideration. While the Governor is ultimately required to accept the final advice of the Council of Ministers, they have a duty to advise the Ministry on what they deem to be the correct course of action and to warn them if they believe they are taking an incorrect or arbitrary step. Therefore, such discretionary power is of vital importance which has been ignored by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in this present case. 


In a recent and significant judicial development on November 10th, the Supreme Court delivered a noteworthy judgment delineating the limits of gubernatorial powers in the context of the ongoing conflict between the Punjab Government and the Governor of Punjab. The Court strongly affirmed that the Governor lacks the authority to withhold assent to bills based on doubts about the legitimacy of the legislative session in which they were approved. The Court, thereby emphasised the significance of upholding constitutional principles.

This ruling is especially relevant in light of the ongoing conflicts between elected Governments and Governors in different states of India. such as Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, West Bengal, and Jharkhand. It emphasises the need to restrict the authorities of both the Governor and the Chief Minister for public well-being.

The Court's criticism of Governor Purohit and Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann for allowing their political disputes to hinder the fulfillment of their Constitutional duties is a pivotal remark. However, it is crucial to note that the Court went a step further by restricting the authority of the Governor in the November 10th judgement. 

The Court emphasized that the Governors are not elected authorities and raised concerns about the frequent clashes between the legislative and executive branches. The displeasure was particularly directed at the interference of the Governors in matters related to bills. The Court's remarks highlight its reservations about the role and actions of the Governors in such situations. 

*Gargi Bindal is a 3rd-year law student, pursuing B.A. LL.B. (Hons.) at Institute of Law, Nirma University, Ahmedabad

The views expressed above are the authors' alone and do not represent the beliefs of Pith & Substance: The CCAL Blog.


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