Polity

Veto Powers of the President

“The President is the nominal executive head of the country, while the real powers vests in the hands of the Prime Minister and his Council of Ministers.” We’ve all heard this statement at least once in our lives. But what actually does this statement mean? Is the President of India really devoid of any type of powers and just acts according to the aid and advice of the Prime Minister and his Council of Ministers? Or does he have some real powers which are detrimental to the governance of the country? So, we’d be discussing these questions in this article and deliberate upon the veto powers of the President.

Veto Powers of the President
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Veto Powers of the President

As we all know that the President of India is a part of the Parliament of India. As stated in Article 79 of the Indian Constitution, the Parliament of India consists of the House of People (Lok Sabha, lower house), Council of States (Rajya Sabha, upper house), and the President.

So, for any Bill to become a law, it should be passed by both the Houses of Parliament and get the assent of the President. So a Bill passed by both the Houses of Parliament can become a law only if it gets the assent of the President.

This provision was incorporated in the Constitution to prevent the hasty and ill-considered legislation by the Parliament and to prevent legislation that may be unconstitutional.

The provisions regarding the assent of the President to a Bill are mentioned in Article 111 of the Constitution. Article 111 of the Constitution states that-

When a bill, passed by the Parliament goes to the President for his assent, he may-

  • Give his assent to the bill
  • Withhold his assent to the bill
  • Return the bill for reconsideration of the Parliament. (not in the case of a Money Bill)

However, if the Parliament passes the Bill once again after the President has sent it for reconsideration, with or without any amendments, the President would be bound to give his assent to the bill.

The President also has the power to withhold his assent over a Bill passed by the Parliament.

Types of Veto Powers
Veto Powers of the President
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There are four types of veto powers-

  • Absolute veto power: This is the power of the President to withhold his assent to the bill passed by the Legislature.
  • Qualified Veto: This refers to the veto which can be overridden by the Parliament with a higher majority.
  • Suspensive Veto: This refers to the veto which can be overridden by the Parliament with just an ordinary majority.
  • Pocket Veto: Pocket veto refers to a situation when the President takes no action on the bill passed by the Legislature.

The different veto powers of the President can be summarized as-

Absolute Veto

As discussed earlier, through absolute veto, the President can withhold his assent to the Bill passed by the President. And as the President withholds his assent, the Bill ends and does not become an act. The President can exercise this veto in case of:

  • Private Member’s Bill, i.e. the bill which is introduced by any member of Parliament other than a minister.
  • Government Bill, i.e. the bill introduced by a Minister. However, this Veto can be used only when the Cabinet resigns after the bill is passed but hasn’t got the assent of the President yet, and the new cabinet advises the President not to give his assent to such bills.

Suspensive Veto

Veto Powers of the President
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Suspensive Veto refers to the powers of the President to return the Bill to the Parliament for reconsideration. The President can exercise suspensive veto when a bill, passed by both the Houses of Parliament, reaches the President for his assent, but the President is not satisfied with the Bill.

However, this veto power of the President is quite limited. Because if both the Houses of Parliament pass the Bill once again, with or without any amendments, then the President is obliged to give his assent to the Bill. For a ruling party having a disciplined majority in both the Houses of Parliament, it’s easy to pass the Bill once again without any amendments, making the suspensive veto of the President irrelevant. But however, if there’s a coalition government or the ruling party has a majority in the Lok Sabha but not in the Rajya Sabha, the Suspensive Veto of the President can have a significant impact on the future prospect of the Bill.

The President cannot exercise a suspensive veto in case of a Money Bill. It means that the President can either give his assent or withhold his assent to a Money Bill, but cannot send it back to the Parliament for reconsideration. However, it seldom happens that the President withholds his assent to a Money Bill as it is introduced in the Parliament with his previous permission.

Pocket Veto

As discussed earlier, the President can either give his assent to the Bill or send the bill back to the Parliament for reconsideration. However, the time limit within which the President has to send the bill to the Parliament for reconsideration is not mentioned in the Constitution. It means that the President can withhold his assent to the bill for an indefinite time period. Hence, this power of the President to not take any action on a bill, i.e. neither send the bill back for reconsideration nor give his assent to the bill, is called a Pocket Veto. So, though indirectly, the President can exercise his Veto Power and make a significant impact.

Veto Powers of the President
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In the United States of America, there is a time limit within which the President can send the bill to the Parliament for reconsideration, which is 10 days.

No Veto Power in case of Constitutional Amendment Bill

The President has no Veto Power in case of a Constitutional Amendment bill. Through the 24th Constitutional Amendment Act 1971, it is obligatory for the President to give his assent to a bill provisioning for a Constitutional Amendment.

Some Instances when the President used Veto Powers 

There are some instances when the President of India exercised his veto powers, they are-

Salary, Allowances, and Pension of Members of Parliament (Amendment) Bill

In 1991, the then President of India, R Venkataraman withheld his assent to the Bill. This Bill was passed by the Parliament only one day before the dissolution of the Lok Sabha, without obtaining the previous recommendation of the President.

Indian Post Office (Amendment) Bill

In 1986, the then President Zali Singh exercised his power of Pocket Veto and did not take any action with respect to the Indian Post Office (Amendment) Bill. The bill was passed by the Congress Government, headed by Rajiv Gandhi. This Bill was widely criticized all over the country as the provisions of the bill imposed various restrictions on the freedom of press.

And after three years, the next President R Venkataraman finally sent the bill back to the Parliament for reconsideration. However, the National Front Government decided to drop the bill.

Veto Powers of the President over State Legislation
Image by- National Conference of State Legislatures

The President also possesses significant veto powers over the State Legislation. As we know that a bill passed by the State Legislature can become an act only if it gets the assent of the Governor of the State, who is appointed by the President. Moreover, the Governor also has the power to reserve a particular bill for the consideration of the President.

When a bill, passed by one or both the houses(in case of a State having bicameral legislature) of State Legislature, the Governor, under Article 200 of the Constitution, can either-

  • Give his assent to the bill
  • withhold his assent to the bill
  • return the bill for reconsideration of the state legislature
  • reserve the bill for the consideration of the President

However, the Governor cannot send a Money bill back for reconsideration.

Veto Powers of the President over bill reserved for consideration

Under Article 201, when a bill is reserved for the consideration of the President, he can either:

  • give his assent to the bill
  • withhold his assent to the bill
  • direct the Governor to return the bill back to the State Legislature for reconsideration.
    • And if the bill is passed again by the State Legislature, with or without any amendments, and then is presented to the President, the President is not constitutionally obliged to give his assent to the bill.

Moreover, there is no time limit mentioned in the Constitution within which the President has to take any action with regard to the bill. This means that the President can exercise a pocket veto in such a situation.

 

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