In an unprecedented move, West Bengal governor Jagdeep Dhankhar has called for an all-party meeting at his office on January 17 to discuss on two Bills passed by the state Assembly, which he is yet to sign.
His move comes in the wake of intensifying acrimony between him and the state government, with the ruling party Trinamool Congress (TMC) repeatedly accusing the governor of hampering the state’s development by holding on to Bills passed by the legislature.
Dhankhar on Monday posted on Twitter his four-page letter, dated January 11, inviting chief minister Mamata Banerjee, as the leader of TMC, Leader of the Opposition Abdul Mannan, of the Congress, along with legislative party leaders of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Communist Party of India (Marxist) CPI(M) and other parties.
“@MamataOfficial The step has been taken for this meeting as on one hand the inputs are not being made available and on the other hand, total factually untenable information is being put in public domain both at the level of the Assembly as also the State Government,” Dhankhar tweeted.
The two Bills in question are West Bengal (Prevention of Lynching) Bill, 2019, and West Bengal State Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Bill, 2019.
In this letter, Dhankhar, after elaborating on his points of concerns, including the government’s insufficient response to his queries, wrote that it had “become imperative for me to invite for appropriate deliberations and interaction with the Leaders of the Legislature Parties, so that in the true spirit of coordinated working, a way forward approach can be initiated.”
CPI(M)’s Sujan Chakraborty, who along with Congress’ Abdul Mannan had brought discrepancies in the West Bengal (Prevention of Lynching) Bill, to the governor’s notice in September, said he would be unable to attend the meeting because he would be out of the state.
“We have no reservation in meeting the governor but I will be in Kerala on that day,” Chakraborty said.
Mannan, too, said he would be in New Delhi on that day.
“We have no opposition to discussing the mob lynching bill with him. After all, we drew his attention on this. However, our party has not taken any decision yet on discussing with the governor the SC, ST commission bill,” Mannan said.
Mannan alleged that, responding to the chief minister’s allegation that the governor was hampering development initiatives by holding on to the SC, ST commission Bill, the Congress and the Left had urged the ruling party to bring in the Assembly a motion, supported by facts and documents, condemning those who were trying to disrupt development initiatives but that no such motion was brought.
“The governor’s move, inviting all-party meeting to discuss a Bill, is not unconstitutional but unprecedented. We don’t think it is right to take one unprecedented step after another. In any case, we don’t want to do anything that could widen the rift between the government and the governor. So, we will discuss it within our party,” Mannan said.
Biswanath Chowdhury of the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) said a decision about attending the meeting would be taken “at the Left Front level”. Left Front comprises the CPI(M), CPI, Forward Bloc and RSP.
“I personally would not be able to make it to the meet due to my poor health,” Chowdhury said.
Manoj Tigga, leader of BJP’s legislative party in the state Assembly, said he would readily accept the invitation once he received it.
Trinamool Congress has not responded yet.
Constitution expert Subhas Kashyap said that the governor’s move was “unusual” but “not unconstitutional”.
“It is unusual for a governor to call all party meetings to discuss a Bill passed by the legislature. But he is within his legal rights to withhold giving his signature to the Bill. He can also send it to the Centre for its consideration. However, there is nothing in the Constitution barring a governor from inviting all party meeting, even if it’s unusual,” Kashyap said.
“The governor doesn’t even need to call for an all party meeting to withhold or deny his assent. However, calling an-all party meeting is not something a governor usually does,” Kashyap added.
Barrister Anindya Mitra, former advocate general of West Bengal said: “If the governor is not satisfied with any bill he can ask the ruling party for clarifications. If he is still not satisfied he can send it back to the assembly. But if the assembly sends it back he is bound to sign it.”