Tamil Nadu Governor RN Ravi paused, within five hours, an unprecedented move to unilaterally sack arrested minister Senthil Balaji, after Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s intervention, two letters accessed exclusively by NDTV reveal.
After a five-page letter citing his constitutional right to dismiss the minister overriding the state’s DMK government, the Governor retracted the highly controversial decision in a one-page letter referring to advice from the Union Home Minister that it would be “prudent” to seek legal opinion.
The first letter announced the minister’s sacking at 7 pm on Thursday. “I am conscious of the fact that under ordinary circumstances, a Governor acts on the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers. However, in the instant case your advice or to put it more appropriately your insistence to retain Thiru V.Senthil Balaji against my advice as a member of the Council of Ministers reflects your unhealthy bias,” the Governor said.
He said Mr Balaji is facing “serious criminal proceedings in a number of cases of corruption, including taking cash for jobs and money-laundering.”
“There are reasonable apprehensions that continuation of V Senthil Balaji as a minister will continue to obstruct the due process of law and disrupt the course of justice. Such a situation may eventually lead to breakdown of the constitutional machinery in the state. Under such circumstances and the powers conferred to me under Articles 154, 163 and 164 of the Constitution, I hereby dismiss V Senthil Balaji from the Council of Ministers with immediate effect.”
The next letter came around 11.45 pm and it was brief. “I have been advised by the Hon’ble Union Minister of Home Affairs that it would be prudent to seek the opinion of the Attorney General also. Accordingly, I am approaching the Attorney-General for his opinion. Meanwhile, the order of dismissal of the minister Thiru V.Senthil Balaji may be kept in abeyance until further communication from me,” the letter accessed by NDTV said.
The Governor’s move, a first in recent memory, was slammed by the ruling DMK and its ally Congress as constitutional impropriety.
The letters indicate a realisation at the Centre that he may have overstepped his brief.
According to a landmark Supreme Court decision in 1975 on the role and powers of the President of India and Governors, they cannot act unilaterally.
“The President and the Governor, be they ever so high in textual terminology, are but functional euphemisms promptly acting on and only on the advice of the Council of Ministers save in a narrow area of power….In the matter of exercise of the powers under Articles 72 and 161, the two highest dignitaries in our constitutional scheme act and must act not on their own judgment but in accordance with the aid and advice of the ministers….The constitutional conclusion is that the Governor is but a shorthand expression for the State Government and the President is an abbreviation for the Central Government,” says the judgment, cited by DMK and Congress leaders.
Senthil Balaji, arrested two weeks ago by the Enforcement Directorate over cash-for-jobs allegations, was retained as a minister without portfolio by Chief Minister MK Stalin. A court in Chennai has extended his judicial custody till July 12. While in custody, the minister also had bypass surgery.
Outraged by the Governor’s move, Mr Stalin had threatened to approach the Supreme Court. “Governor doesn’t have the right (to dismiss a sitting minister) and we will face this legally,” he said.