D.C. Wadhwa v. State of Bihar [1987 SC]

Issue

Repeated promulgation of the same Ordinance

The petitions under Article 32 of the Constitution raised the question relating to the power of the Governor under Article 213 of the Constitution to repromulgate ordinances from time to time without getting them replaced by Acts of the legislature. The question was: Can the Governor go on repromulgating Ordinances for an indefinite period of time and thus take over to himself the power of the legislature to legislate though that power was conferred on him under Article 213 only for the purpose of enabling him to take immediate action at a time when the legislative assembly of the State was not in session or when in a case where there was a Legislative Council in the State, both Houses of legislature were not in session.

The writ petitions were filed by four petitioners challenging the practice of the State of Bihar in promulgating and repromulgating Ordinances on a massive scale and in particular they challenged the constitutional validity of three different Ordinances issued by the Governor of Bihar, namely, (i) Bihar Forest Produce (Regulation of Trade) Third Ordinance, 1983, (ii) The Bihar Intermediate Education Council Third Ordinance, 1983, and (iii) The Bihar Bricks Supply (Control) Third Ordinance, 1983.

Judgment  

Besides Petitioner 1 is a Professor of Political Science and is deeply interested in ensuring proper implementation of the constitutional provisions. He has sufficient interest to maintain a petition under Article 32 even as a member of the public because it is a right of every citizen to insist that he should be governed by laws made in accordance with the Constitution and not laws made by the executive in violation of the constitutional provisions. The rule of law constitutes the core of our Constitution and it is the essence of the rule of law that the exercise of the power by the State whether it be the legislature or the executive or any other authority should be within the constitutional limitations and if any practice is adopted by the executive which is in flagrant and systematic violation of its constitutional limitations, Petitioner 1 as a member of the public would have sufficient interest to challenge such practice by filing a writ petition and it would be the constitutional duty of this Court to entertain the writ petition and adjudicate upon the validity of such practice. We must therefore reject the preliminary contention raised on behalf of the respondents challenging the locus of the petitioners to maintain these writ petitions.

4. We shall now proceed to state how the Governor in the State of Bihar has been indulging in the practice of repromulgating the ordinances from time to time so as to keep them alive for an indefinite period of time. Petitioner 1 carried out a thorough and detailed research in the matter of repromulgation of ordinances by the Governor of Bihar from time to time and the result of this research was compiled by him and published in a book entitled Repromulgation of Ordinances : Fraud on the Constitution of India. Some of the relevant extracts from this book have been annexed to the writ petition indicating the number of ordinances repromulgated repeatedly by the Governor of Bihar. It is clear on a perusal of these extracts that the Governor of Bihar promulgated 256 ordinances between 1967 and 1981 and all these ordinances were kept alive for periods ranging between one to 14 years by repromulgation from time to time. Out of these 256 ordinances 69 were repromulgated several times and kept alive with the prior permission of the President of India. The enormity of the situation would appear to be startling if we have a look at some of the ordinances which were allowed to continue in force by the methodology of repromulgation. It will thus be seen that the power to promulgate ordinances was used by the Government of Bihar on a large scale and after the session of the State Legislature was prorogued, the same ordinances which had ceased to operate were repromulgated containing substantially the same provisions almost in a routine manner. This would be clear from the fact that on August 26, 1973 the Governor of Bihar repromulgated 54 ordinances with the same provisions. This exercise of making mass repromulgation of ordinances on the prorogation of the session of the State legislature continued unabated and on August 11, 1980, 49 ordinances were repromulgated while on January 19, 1981, the number of ordinances repromulgated was as high as 53. It may be pointed out that the three ordinances challenged in these writ petitions also suffered the same process of repromulgation from time to time. The Bihar Forest Produce (Regulation of Trade) Third Ordinance was first promulgated in 1977 and after its expiry, it was repromulgated several times without it being converted into an Act of the State Legislature and it continued to be in force until it was replaced by Bihar Act 12 of 1984 on May 17, 1984. So far as the Bihar Intermediate Education Council Third Ordinance is concerned it was initially promulgated in 1982 and after its expiry, it was again repromulgated by the Governor of Bihar four times with the same provisions and it was ultimately allowed to lapse on June 6, 1985, but then the Bihar Intermediate Education Council Ordinance, 1985 was promulgated which contained almost the same provisions as those contained in the Bihar Intermediate Education Council Third Ordinance.

5. The Government of Bihar, it seems, made it a settled practice to go on repromulgating the ordinances from time to time and this was done methodologically and with a sense of deliberateness. Immediately at the conclusion of each session of the State legislature, a circular letter used to be sent by the Special Secretary in the Department of Parliamentary Affairs to all the Commissioners, Secretaries, Special Secretaries, Additional Secretaries and all Heads of Departments intimating to them that the session of the legislature had been got prorogued and that under Article 213 clause (2)(a) of the Constitution all the ordinances would cease to be in force after six weeks of the date of reassembly of the legislature and that they should therefore get in touch with the Law Department and immediate action should be initiated to get “all the concerned ordinances repromulgated”, so that all those ordinances are positively repromulgated before the date of their expiry. This circular letter also used to advise the officers that if the old ordinances were repromulgated in their original form without any amendment, the approval of the Council of Ministers would not be necessary. The petitioners placed before the court a copy of one such circular letter dated July 29, 1981 and it described the subject of the communication as “regarding repromulgation of ordinances”. It would be profitable to reproduce this circular letter dated July 29, 1981 as it indicates the routine manner in which the ordinances were repromulgated by the Governor of Bihar:

DEPARTMENT OF PARLIAMENTARY AFFAIRS

Dated July 29, 1981

Subject: Regarding repromulgation of ordinances

From: Basant Kumar Dubey, Special Secretary to the Govt.

To: All Commissioners and Secretaries; All Special Secretaries; All Additional Secretaries; All Heads of Departments.

I am directed to say that the budget session of the legislature (June-July 1981) has been got prorogued after the completion of the business of both the houses on July 28, 1981.

Under the provisions of Article 213(2)(a) of the Constitution all the ordinances cease to be in force after six weeks of the date of the reassembly of the legislature. This time the session of the Legislative Assembly has begun on June 29, 1981 and that of the Legislative Council on July 1, 1981. Therefore from July 1, 1981, six weeks, that is, 42 days would be completed on August 11, 1981 and if they are not repromulgated before the aforesaid date, then all the ordinances will cease to be in force after August 11, 1981.

It is, therefore, requested that the Law Department may be contacted and immediate action be initiated to get all the concerned ordinances repromulgated so that they are definitely repromulgated before August 11, 1981.

If the old ordinances are repromulgated in their original form without any amendment, then the approval of the Council of Ministers is not necessary”.

This circular letter clearly shows beyond doubt that the repromulgation of the ordinances was done on a massive scale in a routine manner without even caring to get the ordinances replaced by Acts of the legislature or considering whether the circumstances existed which rendered it necessary for the Governor to take immediate action by way of repromulgation of the ordinances. The Government seemed to proceed on the basis that it was not necessary to introduce any legislation in the legislature but that the law could be continued to be made by the Government by having the ordinances repromulgated by the Governor from time to time. The question is whether this practice followed by the Government of Bihar could be justified as representing legitimate exercise of power of promulgating ordinances conferred on the Governor under Article 213 of the Constitution.

6. The determination of this question depends on the true interpretation of Article 213 which confers power on the Governor of a State to promulgate ordinances. The power conferred on the Governor to issue ordinances is in the nature of an emergency power which is vested in the Governor for taking immediate action where such action may become necessary at a time when the legislature is not in session. The primary law making authority under the Constitution is the legislature and not the executive but it is possible that when the legislature is not in session circumstances may arise which render it necessary, to take immediate action and in such a case in order that public interest may not suffer by reason of the inability of the legislature to make law to deal with the emergent situation, the Governor is vested with the power to promulgate ordinances. But every ordinance promulgated by the Governor must be placed before the legislature and it would cease to operate at the expiration of six weeks from the reassembly of the legislature or if before the expiration of that period a resolution disapproving it is passed by the Legislative Assembly and agreed to by the Legislative Council, if any.

The object of this provision is that since the power conferred on the Governor to issue ordinances is an emergent power exercisable when the legislature is not in session, an ordinance promulgated by the Governor to deal with a situation which requires immediate action and which cannot wait until the legislature reassembles, must necessarily have a limited life. Since Article 174 enjoins that the legislature shall meet at least twice in a year but six months shall not intervene between its last sitting in one session and the date appointed for its first sitting in the next session and an ordinance made by the Governor must cease to operate at the expiration of six weeks from the reassembly of the legislature, it is obvious that the maximum life of an ordinance cannot exceed seven-and-a-half months unless it is replaced by an Act of the legislature or disapproved by the resolution of the legislature before the expiry of that period. The power to promulgate an ordinance is essentially a power to be used to meet an extraordinary situation and it cannot be allowed to be “perverted to serve political ends”.

It is contrary to all democratic norms that the executive should have the power to make a law, but in order to meet an emergent situation, this power is conferred on the Governor and an ordinance issued by the Governor in exercise of this power must, therefore, of necessity be limited in point of time. That is why it is provided that the ordinance shall cease to operate on the expiration of six weeks from the date of assembling of the legislature. The Constitution-makers expected that if the provisions of the ordinance are to be continued in force, this time should be sufficient for the legislature to pass the necessary Act.

But if within this time the legislature does not pass such an Act, the ordinance must come to an end. The executive cannot continue the provisions of the ordinance in force without going to the legislature. The law-making function is entrusted by the Constitution to the legislature consisting of the representatives of the people and if the executive were permitted to continue the provisions of an ordinance in force by adopting the methodology of repromulgation without submitting to the voice of the legislature, it would be nothing short of usurpation by the executive of the law-making function of the legislature. The executive cannot by taking resort to an emergency power exercisable by it only when the legislature is not in session, take over the law-making function of the legislature. That would be clearly subverting the democratic process which lies at the core of our constitutional scheme, for then the people would be governed not by the laws made by the legislature as provided in the Constitution but by laws made by the executive.

The Government cannot bypass the legislature and without enacting the provisions of the ordinance into an Act of the legislature, repromulgate the ordinance as soon as the legislature is prorogued. Of course, there may be a situation where it may not be possible for the government to introduce and push through in the legislature a Bill containing the same provisions as in the ordinance, because the legislature may have too much legislative business in a particular session or the time at the disposal of the legislature in a particular session may be short, and in that event, the Governor may legitimately find that it is necessary to repromulgate the ordinance. Where such is the case, re-promulgation of the ordinance may not be open to attack. But, otherwise, it would be a colourable exercise of power on the part of the executive to continue an ordinance with substantially the same provisions beyond the period limited by the Constitution, by adopting the methodology of repromulgation.

It is settled law that a constitutional authority cannot do indirectly what it is  not permitted to do directly. If there is a constitutional provision inhibiting the constitutional authority from doing an act, such provision cannot be allowed to be defeated by adoption of any subterfuge. That would be clearly a fraud on the constitutional provision.

7. Shri Lal Narain Sinha, appearing on behalf of the State of Bihar urged that the court is not entitled to examine whether the conditions precedent for the exercise of the power of the Governor under Article 213 existed or not, for the purpose of determining the validity of an ordinance. It is true that, according to the decisions of the Privy Council and this Court, the court cannot examine the question of satisfaction of the Governor in issuing an ordinance, but the question in the present case does not raise any controversy in regard to the satisfaction of the Governor. The only question is whether the Governor has power to repromulgate the same ordinance successively without bringing it before the legislature. That clearly the Governor cannot do. He cannot assume legislative function in excess of the strictly defined limits set out in the Constitution because otherwise he would be usurping a function which does not belong to him. It is significant to note that so far as the President of India is concerned, though he has the same power of issuing an ordinance under Article 123 as the Governor has under Article 213, there is not a single instance in which the President has, since 1950 till today, repromulgated any ordinance after its expiry.

The startling facts which we have narrated above clearly show that the executive in Bihar has almost taken over the role of the legislature in making laws, not for a limited period, but for years together in disregard of the constitutional limitations. This is clearly contrary to the constitutional scheme and it must be held to be improper and invalid. We hope and trust that such practice shall not be continued in the future and that whenever an ordinance is made and the Government wishes to continue the provisions of the ordinance in force after the assembling of the legislature, a Bill will be brought before the legislature for enacting those provisions into an Act. There must not be ordinance-Raj in the country.

8. We must accordingly strike down the Bihar Intermediate Education Council Ordinance, 1985 which is still in operation as unconstitutional and void.