Rift between Punjab Governor, CM deepens over House meet

The already sour relationship between the Punjab Governor Banwarilal Purohit and CM  Bhagwant Mann has taken a turn for worse after they locked horns over the legality of recent two-day sitting of extended budget session of the state assembly,  A report by Rajesh Moudgil

The two-day sitting of the so-called “extended’’ budget session of the Punjab assembly which was scheduled to be held for two days from October 20 was cut short on the day one itself in the wake of the governor Banwarilal Purohit’s objections over its legality.

Mann informed the House in the midst of the day one sitting that since the governor Banwarilal Purohit had not given his assent to the three money Bills passed in the last sittings, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government would now resume the session after settling this issue.

In the same breath, Mann said that the government would move the Supreme Court against the Governor’s terming the session illegal and file a petition in the top court on October 30 against the governor’s recent letter in which he had termed the session illegal. He asked  Speaker Kultar Singh Sandhwan to adjourn the session sine die so that it could be called again after the decision of the apex court.

Notably, during the session only, the Leader of the Opposition (LoP) and Congress leader Partap Singh Bajwa had flagged the issue pertaining to objections by the governor, stating that Punjab was facing a “constitutional crisis’’, something it had never seen in the past. And when he also asked Speaker Sandhwan to clarify whether this two-day session was legal after the governor’s objections, the latter held the session was legal.

A day ago – on October 19 – Purohit had written to the Chief Minister withholding his approval for the three Bills, to be tabled in the two-day assembly session beginning October 20.

He said he had received three money bills – Punjab Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management (Amendment) Bill, 2023, the Punjab Goods and Services Tax (Amendment) Bill, 2023 and the Indian Stamp (Punjab Amendment) Bill, 2023 – for his approval for presentation in the special session. He said that he had already indicated that the calling of such a session was “patently illegal, against the accepted procedures and practice of the legislature, and against the provisions of the Constitution’’.

As the budget session stood concluded, any such extended session was bound to be illegal, and any business conducted during such sessions was likely to be unlawful, and ab initio void, he wrote and added that in spite of these communications, disregarding the possibility of taking an unconstitutional step, it appeared that a decision had been taken to call the session. For these reasons, he withheld his approval to the above-mentioned Bills, he wrote.

 Earlier on October 17, Mann had categorically held that the upcoming session was fully valid and legal and many pro-people Bills would be tabled during the said session. On October 12 too, the governor’s office had written to the secretary Punjab assembly that any such extended session was bound to be “illegal”, and any business conducted during such sessions is “unlawful, and ab initio void”.

 The AAP government had called the session amid the raging political row over the Sutlej Yamuna Link (SYL) canal following the October 4 Supreme Court order asking the Centre to survey the portion of land in Punjab which was allocated for the construction of a part of the SYL canal in the state and make an estimate of the extent of construction carried out there.

This is the second time this year that a row between the AAP government and the Raj Bhawan has erupted over the summoning of the House sitting. The governor had earlier called the June 19-20 special sitting as “patently illegal”.

 For the past a-year-and-a-half, Mann and Purohit have been at loggerheads over a number of contentious issues, including fiscal prudence, steps taken against the drug menace, appointment of vice-chancellors, besides the latest – convening of special assembly sessions.

Opposition takes on Mann

Post adjournment of the House on October 20, came the scathing attack of the opposition. The principal opposition party Congress went on to seek Mann’s resignation for calling this “illegal’’ session.

 The Leader of the Opposition (LoP) in Punjab assembly, Partap Singh Bajwa has sought the resignation of Speaker, Kultar Singh Sandhwan and chief minister Bhagwant Mann on moral grounds for squandering Punjab’s exchequer on an “illegal’’ house session.

Bajwa said that Sandhwan had abruptly called off the ongoing session and adjourned it sine die. “The haste with which the session was adjourned proves that the session was illegal. Therefore, someone from the government must bear the onus of calling the house session in the first place’’, he said and added that neither did the AAP table any bill nor did it hold any discussion on Punjab issues in the session. Hence, what was the point of holding this session, he asked, adding that all the chief minister did was announce that they would move to the Supreme Court of India against the governor’s letter terming the session “illegal’’.

Stating that the ruling of the Speaker that the “session was legal’’, could not be unsettled by the CM, he said that there had never been such a casual approach to summon the House without a decision on the business to be transacted.

Bajwa went on to say that it took around Rs 75 lakh to hold an assembly session for a day and it was Punjab’s taxpayers’ hard-earned money that the AAP government had wasted recklessly which the AAP government must deposit in the exchequer from its party funds.

For the record, in the House of 117, the ruling AAP has 92 members, the main opposition party Congress has 18, Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) three and its ally BSP, one, while BJP has two MLAs and there is only one independent legislator.