Hyderabad: The rift between Telangana’s Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS) government and Governor Tamilisai Soundararajan has deepened with the former approaching the Supreme Court seeking direction to her to approve the bills pending with Raj Bhavan.
Just as when it was hoped that relations between the state government and the governor would return to normal following a compromise reached last month over the state budget on the advice of the state High Court, things were back to square one with BRS knocking the doors of the Supreme Court.
Political analysts say with a few months to go for Assembly elections and the governor keeping some bills passed by the legislature pending without taking a decision on them, the BRS realized that it has no other option but to approach the apex court.
The ruling party approached the top court considering the reluctance shown by the state High Court last month in issuing orders to the governor to approve the state budget. The High Court suggested both sides resolve the issue amicably through talks.
Lawyers of both the government and the Raj Bhavan held talks and reached an agreement. While the government came forward to start the budget session of the state legislature with the governor’s speech, the latter agreed to approve the budget.
The BRS, which had last year conducted the budget session without governor’s address, had to soften its stand this time to facilitate passing of the budget.
Political observers say the BRS had apparently hoped that with the compromise on the budget session, the governor will reciprocate by approving the bills, some of which have been pending since September last year.
With no positive response from Raj Bhavan, the BRS decided to take the matter to the Supreme Court by filing the Special Leave Petition (SLP).
The government pleaded with the apex court to direct the governor to fulfill her constitutional obligation by giving assent to the 10 pending bills.
The SLP mentions that seven of these bills have been pending with Raj Bhavan since September while the other three were sent to the governor on February 13 after the budget session of the assembly ended.
The petition pleaded the Supreme Court to declare as illegal, irregular and unconstitutional the delay by the governor.
“As per the mandate of the Constitution, the Governor has to necessarily clear the bills and any inaction to accord assent would lead to lawlessness,” the state government said in the SLP filed through Chief Secretary A. Santhi Kumari.
The state argued that if the governor has any doubts on the bills, she can seek clarifications but she cannot sit on them. “If she raises any issues, we will clarify them. She cannot sit on them and the mandate of the Constitution in this regard is clearly in favour of the state,” the government contended.
The state government further argued that the matter assumes unprecedented significance and any further delay may lead to very unpleasant situations, ultimately affecting the governance and heavily inconveniencing the general public as a result.
Even before the matter came up for hearing in the apex court, the governor took a dig at BRS government with the remark Raj Bhavan is nearer than Delhi and that interaction would have helped resolve the issue.
“Dear Telangana CS Rajbhavan is nearer than Delhi. Assuming office as CS you didn’t find time to visit Raj Bhavan officially. No protocol!No courtesy even for courtesy call. Friendly official visits & interactions would have been more helpful which you Don’t even intend,” Soundararajan tweeted.
Santhi Kumari had assumed office as Chief Secretary on January 11 and the governor pulled her up for not finding time to visit Rajbhavan officially.
However, the BRS leaders launched a counter attack. Krishank Manne, who has been a vocal critic of the governor, posted on social media photographs taken at Raj Bhavan on two occasions in which Santhi Kumar is seen with the governor. Posting the picture taken during Republic Day celebrations at Raj Bhavan, he asked “Madam CS, do you have a twin sister or look alike? Hon’ble Governor says you never visited Raj Bhavan officially after assuming as Chief Secretary.”
“Madam CS, in place of you whom did you send to At Home in Raj Bhavan to stand beside most Hon’ble Governor,” the BRS leader asked by posting another photograph.
Krishank also slammed the BJP-led government at the Centre for appointing ‘an active BJP politician as Governor of Telangana’. He believes that by summoning ministers and Chief Secretary, the governor wants Raj Bhavan to run a parallel system undermining people’s elected government and withholding crucial bills.
The bills pending with the Raj Bhavan are Azamabad Industrial Area (Termination and Regulation of Leases) (Amendment) Bill, 2022; Telangana Municipal Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2022; Telangana Public Employment (Regulation of Age of Superannuation) (Amendment) Bill, 2022; University of Forestry Telangana Bill, 2022; Telangana Universities Common Recruitment Board Bill, 2022; Telangana Motor Vehicles Taxation (Amendment) Bill, 2022; Telangana State Private Universities (Establishment and Regulation) (Amendment) Bill, 2022; Professor Jayashankar Telangana State Agricultural University (Amendment) Bill, 2023; Telangana Panchayat Raj (Amendment) Bill, 2023 and the Telangana Municipalities (Amendment) Bill, 2023.
In November last year, the governor had dismissed the allegations by BRS that her office was sitting on some bills forwarded by the state government for her assent. She stated that she is taking time for assessing and analyzing the bills before giving her consent.
Education minister P. Sabitha Indra Reddy had met the governor on November 10 to clarify her doubts on the Common Recruitment Board Bill.
The government has mentioned this in the SLP filed in the Supreme Court. It also submitted that on January 30, legislative affairs minister S. Prashanth Reddy met the governor and fervently requested to consider granting assent to the bills as the delays in the matter of assent seriously hurt the very objective of the pending bills.
The government mentioned the Shamsher Singh Vs State of Punjab case where the Supreme Court said the Constitution did not envisage the provision of a parallel administration by allowing the governor to go against the advice of the Council of Ministers.
The row over pending bills is the latest episode in the long-drawn power battle between the governor and the government.
In November last year, the relations between the governor and the government hit a new low when Tamilisai said that she suspected her phone was being tapped and alleged that an undemocratic situation was prevailing in the state.
The rift turned bitter when the government directed that Republic Day celebrations be held at Raj Bhavan, drawing the ire of the governor. It was only on the direction of the High Court on a Public Interest Litigation that the police parade was included in the programme.
Tamilisai had been targeting Chief Minister KCR and his government for not giving her the respect and for not following the protocol.
When Tamilisai, a former BJP leader in Tamil Nadu, was appointed as Telangana Governor in 2019, the BRS was reportedly miffed over the Centre not consulting it before the appointment.
Initially, the relations were cordial between the governor and the state government and the friction began when Tamilisai visited a few hospitals during Covid-19 pandemic. The TRS government was irked by her remarks over the government’s handling of the pandemic.
Eyebrows were raised in political circles when Tamilisai, who is also a physician, called meetings of officials over Covid situation. The ruling party felt that the governor was overstepping her powers.
The ties turned sour in 2021 when the governor did not approve the state Cabinet’s recommendation to appoint P. Kaushik Reddy as member of state Legislative Council under the governor’s quota.
She had told the media that since the nominated post falls in the category of social service, she was trying to get information about Kaushik Reddy’s social service works.
The TRS government later had to send Kaushik Reddy to the upper House of the state Legislature under MLA quota.