SC voices "serious concern" over TN Guv conduct, gives him 24 hrs to decide on ex-minister's reinduction

The governor has refused to reinduct Ponmudi, whose conviction and three- year sentence in a disproportionate assets case the apex court stayed recently, despite Chief Minister M K Stalin's recommendation.
Tamil Nadu  Governor RN Ravi
Tamil Nadu Governor RN Ravi

New Delhi | Voicing "serious concern" over the conduct of Tamil Nadu Governor RN Ravi for his refusal to reinduct senior DMK leader K Ponmudi as a minister in the state cabinet even after it suspended his conviction, the Supreme Court on Thursday directed him to decide the issue within 24 hours.

The governor has refused to reinduct Ponmudi, whose conviction and three- year sentence in a disproportionate assets case the apex court stayed recently, despite Chief Minister M K Stalin's recommendation.

Observing that Ravi was defying the top court's order, a three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud wondered how can the governor say that Ponmudi's reinduction will be against constitutional morality.

"Mr Attorney General, we are seriously concerned about the conduct of the governor. We did not want to say it out loud in court but he is defying the Supreme Court of India. Those who have advised him have not advised him properly. Now the governor has to be informed that when the Supreme Court stays a conviction, it stays a conviction," the bench, also comprising Justices J B Pardiwala and Manoj Misra, told AG R Venkataramani.

"If we do not hear from your person tomorrow, we will pass an order directing the governor to act according to the Constitution. we will pass an order," the bench told the AG.

As the hearing commenced, senior advocate Abhishek Singhvi, appearing for the Tamil Nadu government, submitted it was unprecedented in the history of independent India that a governor has refused to act as per the chief minister's recommendation.

"Mr Attorney General, what is your governor doing? The conviction has been stayed by the Supreme Court and the governor says he won't swear him in. We will have to make some serious observations. Please tell your governor, we are going to take a serious view of it," the court then told Venkataramani.

The apex court said when a two-judge bench of the Supreme Court has stayed the conviction, the governor has no business to tell that this does not wipe off the conviction.

"This is not about somebody's subjective perceptions. We may have a different view about this particular man, the minister. But that is not the point. The point is about the constitutional law. The chief minster says I want to appoint this person in the Council of Ministers...that is parliamentary democracy. Governor is a titular head, a figurehead. He has the power to counsel, that is all," the bench said.

Raising technical objections to Tamil Nadu's plea, Venkataramani said the application (against the governor's refusal to reinstate Ponmudi) has been moved as an interlocutory application in a pending writ petition raising a different issue on bills cleared by the state legislature but pending with the Raj Bhavan.

He also questioned the maintainability of the petition under Article 32 and asked what fundamental right of the state has been violated. Article 32 empowers Indian citizens to seek legal remedies from the Supreme Court and high courts for the enforcement of their fundamental rights.

However, the bench said,"Mr Attorney if the governor does not follow the Constitution, what does the government do?"

The top court was hearing a plea filed by the Tamil Nadu government seeking a direction to the governor to accept the recommendation made by the chief minister to reinduct Ponmudi as a minister.

The plea said once the conviction was stayed, there was no legal and constitutional bar on re-induction of Ponmudi in the state cabinet.

The state government has filed an interim plea in a petition relating to non-grant of assent to bills cleared by the legislative assembly.

The senior DMK leader was disqualified as an MLA under the Representation of the People Act after the Madras High Court recently reversed his acquittal in the disproportionate assets case. The top court stayed the conviction and the sentence.

The governor, while refusing to reinduct Ponmudi said his conviction and sentence have only been suspended and not set aside.

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