In an unprecedented move, Tamil Nadu Governor R.N. Ravi on June 29 evening, unilaterally “dismissed with immediate effect” arrested Minister V. Senthilbalaji from the Council of Ministers, only to hurriedly backtrack on his decision late in the night.
To get today’s top stories from the State in your inbox, subscribe to our Tamil Nadu Today newsletter here
Sources in Chief Minister M.K. Stalin’s office told The Hindu that Mr. Ravi had communicated that his order dismissing Mr. Senthilbalaji was being put on hold with immediate effect. “The Governor said his decision was being kept in abeyance,” a source privy to the development said.
Earlier, Mr. Stalin told journalists, the Governor does not have the authority to dismiss a Minister. “We will face this legally,” he had said.
Mr. Senthilbalaji was arrested by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in an alleged money laundering case on June 14. The DMK leader, who was hospitalised after his arrest, underwent a beating heart coronary artery bypass surgery on June 21.
On Thursday evening, a Raj Bhavan press release said, “There are reasonable apprehensions that continuation of Thiru V. Senthilbalaji in the Council of Ministers will adversely impact the due process of law including fair investigation that may eventually lead to breakdown of the Constitutional machinery in the State. Under these circumstances, Honourable Governor has dismissed Thiru V. Senthilbalaji from the Council of Ministers with immediate effect.”
No legal provision cited
The release did not specify the legal provision under which the Governor took the decision.
Incidentally, nearly a month ago, the Chief Minister had rejected Mr. Ravi’s demand to drop Mr. Senthilbalaji, who was then holding the Electricity and Excise and Prohibition portfolios from the Cabinet. At that time, the Supreme Court had cleared the decks for the police and ED to proceed with their respective investigations against the Minister.
Besides, while reallocating Mr. Senthilbalaji’s portfolios to two other senior Ministers following his arrest and hospitalisation, the Governor had “disagreed” with Mr. Stalin’s decision to retain him as a Minister without portfolio.
The Raj Bhavan, on Thursday said abusing his position as a Minister, Mr. Senthilbalaji has been influencing the investigation and obstructing the due process of law and justice.
Pointing out that Mr. Senthilbalaji was “facing serious criminal proceedings in a number of cases of corruption including taking cash for jobs and money laundering,” the communication said the Minister was in judicial custody in a criminal case and being investigated by the Enforcement Directorate.
Some more criminal cases against him under Prevention of Corruption Act and the Indian Penal Code are being investigated by the State Police, it added.
Incidentally, two petitions were filed in the Madras High Court challenging Mr. Senthilbalaji’s continuation in the Cabinet after his arrest.
During the course of hearing in the case earlier this week, Chief Justice S.V. Gangapurwala wondered whether the High Court could interfere in such issues by exercising its powers under Article 226 (writ jurisdiction) of the Constitution when the Governor had only expressed his dissent and not passed any positive order dismissing or removing the Minister from the Cabinet.
“If there is an order by the Governor and the Minister was still continuing in the post, then there might be some justification for the court to interfere,” he told the counsel for a petitioner. The Chief Justice also pointed out that Article 164 states that the Governor shall appoint Ministers on the advice of the Chief Minister and does not speak about the power of dismissal.
(With inputs from B. Kolappan from Chennai)