Explained | What is the doctrine of pleasure?
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Why did the Kerala Governor want to invoke it? What issues have brought things to such a pass?

October 30, 2022 02:10 am | Updated 02:10 am IST

Kerala Governor Arif Mohammed Khan addresses a press conference at Raj Bhavan in Thiruvananthapuram. File

Kerala Governor Arif Mohammed Khan addresses a press conference at Raj Bhavan in Thiruvananthapuram. File | Photo Credit: The Hindu

The story so far: Kerala Governor Arif Mohammed Khan and the State government have major differences over multiple issues. The latest controversy has arisen after he sought the resignation of several vice-chancellors following a Supreme Court judgment setting aside the appointment of the Vice-Chancellor of a technology university. As a fallout of comments made by the State’s Finance Minister, K. N. Balagopal, the Governor has also sought his dismissal from his Cabinet, declaring that he has withdrawn the pleasure of having him in the Council of Ministers.

What is the concept? Can the Governor use it?

The pleasure doctrine is a concept derived from English common law, under which the crown can dispense with the services of anyone in its employ at any time. In India, Article 310 of the Constitution says every person in the defence or civil service of the Union holds office during the pleasure of the President, and every member of the civil service in the States holds office during the pleasure of the Governor. However, Article 311 imposes restrictions on the removal of a civil servant. It provides for civil servants being given a reasonable opportunity for a hearing on the charges against them. There is also a provision to dispense with the inquiry if it is not practicable to hold one, or if it is not expedient to do so in the interest of national security. In practical terms, the pleasure of the President referred to here is that of the Union government, and the Governor’s pleasure is that of the State government.

Under Article 164, the Chief Minister is appointed by the Governor; and the other Ministers are appointed by the Governor on the CM’s advice. It adds that Ministers hold office during the pleasure of the Governor. In a constitutional scheme in which they are appointed solely on the CM’s advice, the ‘pleasure’ referred to is also taken to mean the right of the Chief Minister to dismiss a Minister, and not that of the Governor. In short, the Governor of an Indian State cannot remove a Minister on his own.

What did the Supreme Court say on one Vice-Chancellor’s appointment?

In a case challenging the appointment of Dr. M.S. Rajasree as V-C of the APJ Abdul Kalam Technological University, Thiruvananthapuram, the Supreme Court held that her appointment was contrary to the regulations of the University Grants Commission (UGC). The particular infirmity was that the Search Committee had identified only one candidate and recommended the name to the Chancellor for appointment. Under UGC regulations, a panel of three to five names should be recommended so that the Chancellor has a number of options to choose from. The court rejected the State government’s argument that it had not specifically adopted the UGC regulations, holding that the regulations framed under a Central law will override the State government’s relevant rules.

How did the Governor react?

The Governor, in his capacity as Chancellor of universities, responded by directing the V-Cs of nine universities to resign the very next day, contending that the infirmities pointed out by the Supreme Court in one case also vitiated their appointments. Mr. Khan noted that the apex court had declared that an appointment not in line with the UGC regulations would be ab initio void that is invalid from the very beginning. He highlighted the fact that each of those appointments were either made on the basis of a single recommendation or were recommended by a panel in which the Chief Secretary was a member (contrary to the Regulations that say its members should be persons of eminence in the field of higher education). However, when the communication was challenged in the Kerala High Court, the Governor converted his directive into show-cause notices to the V-Cs to explain how their appointments were not illegal. Later, such notices were sent to two more V-Cs.

Editorial | Whose pleasure? On Kerala Governor’s remarks

Why did he want a Minister removed?

Responding to remarks by Kerala Ministers, Mr. Khan warned that he could withdraw his pleasure in respect of individual Ministers if they made statements that lowered the dignity of his office. Later, taking note of a comment by Mr. Balagopal, he conveyed to Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan that the Minister ceased to enjoy his pleasure and wanted him to take “constitutionally appropriate action”. Mr. Balagopal had said that someone who had seen only universities in Uttar Pradesh could not understand the system in universities in Kerala. Mr. Khan considered this an affront to the Governor’s office, and also claimed that it undermined national unity, stoked regionalism and was seditious. Mr. Vijayan rejected the suggestion: “viewed from a constitutional perspective, factoring in the democratic conventions and traditions of our country, the statement cannot warrant a ground for cessation of the enjoyment of the Governor’s pleasure.” He added that he continued to have trust in Mr. Balagopal.

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