5 Sep 2023 4:04 PM GMT
The Madras High Court on Tuesday left it to the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu MK Stalin to take a call on the continuation of Minister Senthil Balaji - who is now under custody in a money laundering case - in the cabinet as a Minister without portfolio. The court added that Balaji’s continuation in the cabinet without a portfolio did not serve any purpose and did not auger well with...
The Madras High Court on Tuesday left it to the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu MK Stalin to take a call on the continuation of Minister Senthil Balaji - who is now under custody in a money laundering case - in the cabinet as a Minister without portfolio. The court added that Balaji’s continuation in the cabinet without a portfolio did not serve any purpose and did not auger well with the purity of administration.
“The Chief Minister of the State of Tamil Nadu may be well advised to take a decision about the continuance of V.Senthil Balaji (who is in judicial custody) as a Minister without Portfolio, which serves no purpose and which does not augur well with the Principles of Constitutional ethos on goodness, good governance and purity in administration,” the court observed.
Calling it a “constitutional travesty” the bench of Chief Justice SV Gangapurwala and Justice PD Audikesavalu observed that the founding fathers of the constitution may not have comprehended corrosion of governance to such an extent that a elected member in custody was rewarded with the status of Minister.
“The Founding Fathers of our Constitution may not have comprehended corrosion of good and clean Governance to an extent that a person would be retained as a Minister without portfolio, that too while in custody nor did they envisaged that the Executive Head would reward an elected Member the status of a Minister, though finding him not fit to discharge the responsibilities of a Minster. A Minister without portfolio is a constitutional travesty,” the bench said.
The court also highlighted that there could not be a moral or constitutional basis to retain an MLA as a Minister without portfolio and that it was opposed to ethos, good governance and constitutional morality and integrity.
“The Chief Minister is an Executive Head. It is the responsibility of an Executive Head to assign Ministerial responsibilities to an elected representative. However, if he feels that a particular elected representative cannot be assigned the responsibility of a Minister, there cannot be moral or Constitutional basis to retain such a Member of the Legislative Assembly as a Minister without portfolio, which would be opposed to the ethos, good Governance and Constitutional morality or integrity,” the court said.
The bench made the observations on a plea by ML Ravi, President of Desiya Makkal Sakthi Katchi, former AIADMK MP J. Jayavardhan and one S Ramachandran of Chennai's Kolathur. The petitioner’s were challenging a Press Note issued by the State on June 16, according to which the government had transferred the portfolios that were allocated to Balaji but said that he would continue as a Minister without portfolio. Another writ in the nature of Quo Warranto has also been filed questioning the authority by which Balaji is continuing in the post of Minister. A third plea challenges the order of Governor RN Ravi by which he kept in abeyance an earlier order of dismissing Balaji from the Cabinet.
Earlier the bench had questioned how it can pass any orders under Article 226 of the Constitution against the continuation of Balaji as a Minister without portfolio when no such specific direction has been made by the Governor. However, following this, the Governor had issued an order dismissing Balaji from the Council of Ministers with immediate effect and later, on the same day, kept the order in abeyance.
Challenging this, the petitioners had argued that since the Governor had already ordered his removal from the Cabinet, he had to be sworn in again for continuing in the cabinet and the same could not be effected by way of keeping the order in abeyance. It was also argued that Balaji’s continuation in the council would result in the degradation of the entire system and that the Chief Minister has a collective responsibility.
The State, on the other hand, had submitted that the Governor could not dismiss a Minister using his discretion and that the “pleasure” could be withdrawn by the Governor only on the aid and advice of the Chief Minister and not on personal satisfaction. It was also submitted that the court could not issue directions to the Prime Minister or the Chief Minister as to the manner in which they should exercise their power and that is the Constitutional prerogative of those functionaries who are called upon to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution.
Though a specific plea was made by the petitioners that Balaji continued to enjoy perks and allowances at the cost of public exchequer, the court noted that since he did not have any portfolio, no work was allotted to him and thus he was not entitled to any allowances. Thus, according to the court, “no purpose was served” by ceremonially retaining him as Minister.
“Naturally, the person in custody cannot effectively perform the work of a Minister. In the present case, V.Senthil Balaji is a Minister without Portfolio, meaning thereby, no work is allotted to him. He is a Minister for the name sake. In other words, a Minister without any work. Such a person certainly will not be entitled for any allowances because he will not be officiating any work nor any work is allotted to him. Certainly, no purpose is served by just ceremonially retaining him as a Minister,” the court observed.
Case Title: S Ramachandran v State
Citation: 2023 LiveLaw (Mad) 254