Opinion divided on T.N. Governor Ravi’s refusal to reallocate arrested Minister Senthilbalaji’s portfolios

In 1994, there was a similar standoff between Jayalalithaa and M. Channa Reddy over reallocation of portfolios

Updated - June 16, 2023 05:31 pm IST

Published - June 16, 2023 03:12 pm IST - CHENNAI

Tamil Nadu Governor R.N. Ravi with Chief Minister M.K. Stalin. File

Tamil Nadu Governor R.N. Ravi with Chief Minister M.K. Stalin. File | Photo Credit: R. Ragu

Tamil Nadu Governor R.N. Ravi’s rejection of Chief Minister M.K. Stalin’s recommendation for re-allocation of portfolios, held by V. Senthilbalaji (now arrested in a money-laundering case and hospitalised), to a couple of other Ministers, has rekindled the memories of what the State witnessed 29 years ago.

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On October 8, 1994, the then Chief Minister Jayalalithaa recommended to Governor M. Channa Reddy that the portfolios of certain Ministers be changed. There was no response from the Governor till November 15.

On November 16, Jayalalithaa, on her own, announced changes in the allocation of portfolios of the Ministers. She had exercised the powers under Explanation I to Business Rule 5 of the Tamil Nadu Government Business Rules. [According to this provision, which is still part of the rules, in urgent cases, “the allotment may be made by the Chief Minister and the cases circulated to the Governor after issue of orders.”].

Justifying her action, Jayalalithaa, in a counter affidavit filed by her before the Madras High Court in December 1994 on a writ petition that questioned the portfolio changes, stated that the changes had been felt necessary in the public interest and having regard to the urgency of the matter, orders were issued invoking relevant rules. There was “neither illegality nor irregularity” in the action taken by her and the government, she further submitted.

In the wake of her decision, Transport Minister K.A. Sengottaiyan was additionally given the subject of Forests. Likewise, Social Welfare Minister R. Indira Kumari was entrusted with one more portfolio - Handlooms and Textiles. K. Lawrence and E. Madhusudanan were put in charge of Backward Classes and Animal Husbandry respectively while D. Jayakumar retained Fisheries.

In the current episode, the Governor decided to reject the Chief Minister’s recommendation, unlike his predecessor who did not take any action on the proposal of Jayalalithaa for about one-and-a-half months. Higher Education Minister K. Ponmudy, in his interaction with the media on Thursday, asserted that as per Article 164(1) of the Constitution, the Governor had “no powers” on the issue.

Commenting on the current episode, former Electricity Minister Panruti S. Ramachandran, who was part of Cabinets headed by M. Karunanidhi and M.G. Ramachandran during the 1970s and ‘80s, said the Governor should observe propriety and should not “try to interfere with routine matters” of the government.

However, AIADMK’s Rajya Sabha member and former Law Minister, C.Ve. Shanmugam, emphasises that the Chief Minister should have presented “full facts” regarding Mr Senthilbalaji to the Governor, who, Mr Shanmugam held, “cannot be expected to toe the line of the government blindly.”

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