Tamil Nadu government approaches Supreme Court as Governor Ravi refuses to swear-in Ponmudy as Minister

An urgent mentioning was made by senior advocate Abisheik Manu Singhvi and P. Wilson

March 18, 2024 12:48 pm | Updated 05:17 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Tamil Nadu Governor R.N. Ravi. File

Tamil Nadu Governor R.N. Ravi. File | Photo Credit: B. Velankanni Raj

The State of Tamil Nadu on March 18, 2024, moved the Supreme Court accusing Governor R.N. Ravi of “attempting to run a parallel government” in the State by refusing to adhere to Cabinet advice to appoint DMK leader K. Ponmudy as Higher Education Minister following the recent apex court order suspending his conviction and sentence in a disproportionate assets case.

Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud agreed to list case following an urgent oral mentioning made by senior advocate AM Singhvi and P. Wilson for the State of Tamil Nadu.

The State argued that the Governor had no individual discretion in the appointment of a State Minister and suitability of the candidate and had to follow the advice of the Chief Minister-led State Cabinet under Article 164 (1) of the Constitution.

“It is well settled that when it comes to appointment of a Minister, the suitability of the person to be appointed is assessed only by the Chief Minister, who alone has sole discretion. It is now well settled that a Governor cannot decide who should be a Minister on moral grounds or any other grounds. That sole prerogative is with the Chief Minister,” the State said.

It pressed that Governor Ravi was in clear contempt of the Supreme Court order of March 11, which had suspended the conviction of Mr. Ponmudy specifically for the reason that he should not suffer disqualification under the Representation of People (RP) Act from holding office of Minister or MLA.

The Governor’s letter on March 17 to Chief Minister MK Stalin, refusing to appoint Mr. Ponmudy on the ground that the Supreme Court had “only suspended, not set aside” his conviction amounted to wilful disobedience of a judicial order. The Governor cannot act as a “super appellate authority”. He is bound by the orders of the Supreme Court.

The State government argued that the Governor had stepped out of bounds to opine that Mr. Ponmudy was “tainted by corruption” and that his appointment would be against “constitutional morality”.

Its application contended that when the Supreme Court has suspended the conviction, a legal fiction is created that the earlier finding of guilt by a lower court against Mr. Ponmudy never existed in the eyes of law.

“The Governor is attempting to run a parallel government or dyarchy. The Governor is attempting to choose a Minister as per his subjective assessment of suitability, which is impermissible… The letter (of the Governor) has to be stayed and a direction issued to the Governor to appoint Mr. Ponmudy as a Minister of the Government of Tamil Nadu and to allot him the portfolios as per the letter of the Chief Minister on March 13 to prevent grave and irreparable harm and hardships,” the State’s application sought.

Tamil Nadu took the court back to a run-in between the Governor and the State over the pendency of 10 crucial Bills in 2023. The State had blamed the Governor for sitting on the Bills which had been cleared by the Legislative Assembly. Though the State had resent the Bills to the Governor for approval on November 18 last year, they were reserved by the latter for the consideration of the President.

The State said the Chief Minister had met the Governor on December 30, 2023 at Raj Bhavan and requested him to act in accordance with the aid and advice of the Cabinet in discharge of his functions. Despite this, the Ponmudi issue has again brought the uneasy relationship between the Governor and the State government under the spotlight.

The government said the Governor has intervened against the Cabinet’s advice to appoint Mr. Ponmudy even as the Supreme Court had suspended his conviction to avoid the “irreversible situation” of his disqualification as an MLA and Election Commission withdrawing the notification of vacancy of No.76 Thirukovilur Assembly Constituency on March 16.

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