A constitutional crisis is brewing in Tamil Nadu as the governor of the state withholds his decision to dismiss a minister, hours after taking it, without a consultation with the chief minister. The decision to withhold came after the Union home minister told the governor to seek the Attorney General for India’s opinion first. Experts differ on whether the governor has the power to dismiss a minister without consulting the chief minister.
Hours after Tamil Nadu governor R.N. Ravi dismissed minister V. Senthil Balaji from the council of ministers without consulting chief minister M.K. Stalin, the former has put his decision on hold. This comes after Union home minister Amit Shah told the governor to first obtain the opinion of the Attorney General for India on the matter.
In an alleged cash-for-jobs scandal, Balaji was arrested on June 14 by the Enforcement Directorate after an 18-hour-long interrogation. Chief Minister Stalin retained Balaji as minister without portfolio after his arrest. Prior to his arrest, he had held the electricity, prohibition and excise portfolios.
The governor in his order dismissing Balaji from the cabinet recorded: “There are reasonable apprehensions that continuation of Thiru V. Senthil Balaji in the council of ministers will adversely impact the due process of law including a fair investigation, that may eventually lead to the breakdown of the constitutional machinery in the State.”
Speaking on the dismissal of arrested Tamil Nadu minister Senthil Balaji, DMK leader T.K.S. Elangovan quipped, “The governor has no right, as per the Constitution, to remove any minister without the knowledge of the chief minister… But this governor has never respected the Constitution. He has violated the Constitution continuously… Merely being charged with a crime does not disqualify a person from holding a ministerial berth. That is the law of the land.“
The governor appoints ministers under Article 164 of the Constitution on the advice of the chief minister. The Article also provides that the ministers shall hold office at the pleasure of the governor.
Speaking to The Leaflet, senior advocate Indira Jaising said the fundamentals of parliamentary democracy require that the governor acts on the aid and advice of the cabinet.
“The governor of Tamil Nadu has overstepped the limits of his constitutional position. The sooner it is challenged, the better for Indian democracy,”Jaising added.
However, senior advocate Mohan Katarki has a different take on the matter. Speaking to The Leaflet, he said even though the Tamil Nadu governor’s act of dismissing the minister seems to have been politically motivated, it could meet the test of law, adding that a minister is appointed by the governor only on the advice of chief minister, but continues in office subject to the “pleasure” of the governor under Article 164(1) of the Constitution of India.
“If the minister is in jail, whatever the reason, or even if the case is false, the governor is justified in dismissing the non-functioning minister by withdrawing his pleasure,”Katarki said.