AA Edit | A governor cut to size

The greyest of the grey areas in our Constitution could be about the institution of governors

The refusal of the Madras high court to issue a directive against the continuation of V. Senthil Balaji as a minister in the Tamil Nadu cabinet is yet another intervention by the judiciary to reinforce the primacy of elected leadership in governance. The plea against the minister was based on the constitutional provision that a minister would continue in office during the pleasure of the governor and that the Tamil Nadu governor had publicly expressed his disagreement with the continuation of Mr Balaji as a minister following his arrest by the Enforcement Directorate in a corruption case. The court, which is yet to pronounce its ruling, has pointed out that the governor has made no such specific “order”.

The doctrine of pleasure has been interpreted and decided by various courts as the pleasure of the elected legislature, not the individual pleasure of the governor. A minister is appointed to the post on the recommendation of a chief minister who commands the majority support of the legislature and only such chief minister can decide on the continuation of the minister. Attempts by governors to usurp that power have no constitutional backing; In fact, they must be seen as attempts to undermine the Constitution, and hence must be condemned.

The greyest of the grey areas in our Constitution could be about the institution of governors. While all other constitutional posts have a process of election or selection, there is no such process in the appointment of governors with whom the executive power of the states is vested. The adaptation of the wording in the Government of India Act, 1935, into the Constitution with respect to the powers of governors has necessitated repeated intervention and interpretation by the constitutional courts.

In the latest instance, the Supreme Court has underscored the fact that the governor has only limited powers even in Delhi, a Union territory. It is time India has a mechanism wherein it lists ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ for the governors so that governments responsible to the people are allowed to carry on with their business uninterrupted.

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