TN CM Stalin must take call on Balaji as minister: Madras High court
The first bench of Chief Justice SV Gangapurwala and Justice PD Audikesavalu gave the advice while disposing of petitions filed against Balaji’s continuation in the cabinet without portfolio.
CHENNAI: Saying that if an elected representative cannot be assigned the responsibility of a minister, there cannot be a moral or constitutional basis to retain him as a minister without portfolio, the Madras High Court on Tuesday advised the chief minister to take a decision about the continuation of
V Senthil Balaji in the cabinet. The minister was arrested on money laundering charges by the Enforcement Directorate on June 14, 2023.
The first bench of Chief Justice SV Gangapurwala and Justice PD Audikesavalu gave the advice while disposing of petitions filed against Balaji’s continuation in the cabinet without portfolio. The court said a minister without portfolio is a constitutional travesty.
Saying that the CM is the executive head who assigns ministerial responsibilities, the bench said that retaining a member as a minister without a portfolio would be against good governance and constitutional morality. “The founding fathers of the Constitution may not have comprehended corrosion of good and clean governance to the extent that a person would be retained as minister while in custody.
They also would not have envisaged the executive head (CM) would reward an elected member the status of a minister though finding him not fit for discharging the responsibilities of the minister,” the bench said.
Balaji’s continuance would serve no purpose: HC
The judges said the petition brings to the fore the ‘erosion of high standards’ of characters and conduct demanded from the members of the legislature and the petitioners expect, and legitimately so, high standards or moral conduct from persons in power.
Noting that the CM is the repository of the people’s faith, the bench said, “Political compulsion cannot outweigh public morality, requirements of good/clean governance and constitutional morality.” Disposing of the petitions, the bench said,
“The CM may be well advised to take a decision about the continuance of Senthil Balaji (who is in judicial custody) as minister without portfolio. His continuance would serve ‘no purpose.” The court also said a minister, if not doing any official work, is not qualified to avail of and perks.
Referring to the withdrawal of pleasure by the governor, the court noted that it will have to be held that if the governor chooses to withdraw his pleasure with respect to a minister, he must exercise his discretion with the knowledge of the CM and not unilaterally.
In the present case, the CM had never consented to the exercise of discretion by the governor, the judges said. The petitions were filed by S Ramachandran, advocate ML Ravi and ex-MP J Jayavardhan of AIADMK. Jayavardhan had sought an order of quo warranto to remove Senthil Balaji from the cabinet.
Only the CM has power to exclude a minister
Chennai: Retired HC judge Justice K Chandru said advice is obiter dicta, an unwanted portion of the order, in the law. "The law is, other than the CM, no one can decide either the inclusion or the exclusion of a minister in a cabinet," he said. Pointing out that the governor's decision to remove Senthil Balaji from the cabinet was kept suspended within a few hours, Chandru said this decision (HC's advice) also does that only. He added that since the CM has already denied any portfolio to him, it means he cannot be an active minister.
Advice not binding on CM, say legal experts
Legal experts say the advice of the HC to the CM to take a decision on the continuation of V Senthil Balaji as a minister without portfolio will not have a binding effect since there is no constitutional or legal bar on his continuance as a minister