Governor cannot take unilateral decision on removing Senthil Balaji from ministerial post: Tamil Nadu govt tells HC

The Tamil Nadu government on Friday informed the Madras High Court that the Governor cannot take a unilateral decision to remove V Senthil Balaji from the Council of Ministers.

Advocate General R Shanmughasundaram made the submission when the PILs involving arrested DMK Minister Senthil Balaji came up for hearing before the first bench comprising Chief Justice S V Gangapurwala and Justice P D Audikesavalu.

Senthil Balaji continues to be a Minister without portfolio in the Tamil Nadu government even after his arrest in an alleged cash-for-jobs scam. He is currently lodged in Puzhal Central Prison.

While a PIL sought to quash the order of Tamil Nadu Governor R N Ravi dismissing Senthil Balaji and his subsequent order to keep the same in abeyance, the other two writ petitions questioned the authority under which Senthil Balaji was holding the post of a minister.

Citing various judgments of the Supreme Court and High Courts, Shanmughasundaram said the Governor cannot exercise his power of discretion on his own satisfaction. He can exercise his power of discretion only on the satisfaction of the Council of Ministers.

The criminal antecedent of a person cannot be a bar to contest in the election or to be appointed as a minister, unless he was convicted in a case. A person who was elected by the people cannot be removed by way of quo warranto (a challenge to a person’s right to hold office covered under the writ jurisdiction), he added.

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Sakthivel, one of the counsels appearing for the petitioners, submitted that in this case, the Governor initially wrote to the Chief Minister to consider the criminal antecedents of Senthil Balaji and drop him. Chief Minister M K Stalin replied stating that Senthil Balaji will continue to be a Minister without portfolio. Therefore, the Governor did not keep the Chief Minister in the dark while passing the order. The Governor has removed him with reasons and therefore, it was valid, he added.

Senior counsel V Raghavachari, appearing for one of the petitioners, submitted that once Senthil Balaji was detained, he had no duty or responsibility to perform his function. He cannot continue to be a Minister without a portfolio and he was incapacitated to perform his function. The Governor cannot shut his eyes as he has a constitutional duty to point out the illegalities, he added.

The bench posted the next hearing to August 1 to enable both sides to file their written submissions, if any.

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