Explained | Can a Governor dismiss a minister?

TN Governor's move to dismiss Senthil from the Cabinet only to backtrack it hours later has kickstarted another political tussle between him and the DMK government.
Last Updated : 30 June 2023, 10:17 IST
Last Updated : 30 June 2023, 10:17 IST

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Tamil Nadu Governor R N Ravi's move to dismiss Minister V Senthil Balaji from the Cabinet, only to backtrack it hours later, has kickstarted another political turmoil between the DMK government led by Chief Minister M K Stalin and the Centre-appointed official.

As the DMK is likely to consult its leaders and office-bearers to devise a strategy -- both legal and political -- to take on the Governor, let us understand what happened yesterday and if he has the power to dismiss a minister.

Senthil's 'dismissal'

In an unprecedented move, Tamil Nadu Governor R N Ravi on Thursday “dismissed” V Senthil Balaji from the Cabinet citing his arrest by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in a cash-for-jobs scam, but put the decision in “abeyance” within hours.

The Governor wrote a second letter to Chief Minister M K Stalin on Thursday night to inform that he has put “on abeyance” his decision to “dismiss” Balaji from the Council of Ministers, which was conveyed in the first letter written Thursday evening. It is believed that the Governor’s second letter came after the Union Government intervened.

Can a Governor sack a minister?

Article 164(1) of the Constitution states that the chief minister shall be appointed by the Governor and the other ministers shall be appointed by the Governor on the advice of the Chief Minister, and the ministers shall hold office during the pleasure of the Governor.

Constitutional experts told DH that the Governor has erred by dismissing a minister on his own without the recommendation of the Chief Minister after wrongly interpreting Article 164 of the Constitution.

"The Governor cannot remove a minister on his own. He can do so only at the recommendation of the Chief Minister," P D T Achary, Former Lok Sabha Secretary-General and a Constitutional expert, told DH.

"If the Governor is allowed to remove ministers on his own, he can dismiss any number of ministers at his will. This (dismissal by the Governor) is not permitted by the Constitution," Achary added.

Echoing Achary’s views, senior Supreme Court advocate Sanjay Hegde said the Governor is constitutionally in the wrong.

"We have a Parliamentary system and not a Presidential one. Governors and Presidents reign, they do not rule. To cite Justice Krishna Iyer in Shamsher Singh's case, "not the Potomac, but the Thames, fertilizes the flow of the Yamuna. if we may adopt riverine imagery,” Hegde told DH.

Chief Minister M K Stalin also said the Governor does not have powers to remove Balaji and vowed to approach the courts to seek legal recourse.

So what does the "pleasure" of the Governor mean?

Achary said that the phrase "the ministers shall hold office during the pleasure of the Governor" does not mean the Governor has the right to dismiss the Chief Minister or ministers at will. "But it cannot be interpreted that the Governor can withdraw the pleasure on his own. He can do so only at the recommendation of the Chief Minister, who represents the Council of Ministers," Achary said.

Supreme Court judgements

In Shamsher Singh & Anr vs State Of Punjab (1974), a seven-judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court said: "We declare the law of this branch of our Constitution to be that the President and Governor, custodians of all executive and other powers under various Articles, shall, by virtue of these provisions, exercise their formal constitutional powers only upon and in accordance with the advice of their Ministers save in a few well known exceptional situations."

In the Nabam Rebia And Etc. vs Deputy Speaker And Ors (2016), the Supreme Court cited the observations of B R Ambedkar: "The Governor under the Constitution has no function which he can discharge by himself; no functions at all. While he has no functions, he has certain duties to perform, and the House will do well to bear in mind this distinction."
The Supreme Court ruled that Article 163 of the Constitution does not give the Governor a general discretionary power to act against or without the advice of his Council of Ministers.

(With DHNS inputs)

Published 30 June 2023, 05:57 IST

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