Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud on Thursday slammed Tamil Nadu Governor RN Ravi for “defying the Supreme Court of India” by refusing to reinduct DMK leader K Ponmudy as Minister despite an apex court order suspending his conviction in a disproportionate assets case.

Governor Ravi has refused to administer oath to Ponmudy as Higher Education Minister, saying it is against “constitutional morality”.

The Governor has ventured that the apex court stay of the conviction of Ponmudy on March 8 did not rub off the fact that he had indeed been convicted of moral turpitude.

Three-judge Bench

“We are seriously concerned about the conduct of the Governor in this case. We did not want to say it aloud in court. He is defying the Supreme Court of India… When a two-judge Bench of the Supreme Court stayed the conviction of Ponmudy, the Governor had no business to tell us that the suspension order did not wipe out the conviction or made it non-existent,” a visibly annoyed Chief Justice Chandrachud, heading a three-judge Bench, addressed Attorney General R Venkataramani, appearing for the Governor.

The court gave the Governor overnight to “set the constitutional position right”.

“If we don’t hear from you (Governor) in a positive manner tomorrow, we will pass an order… We thought of passing an order right now, but we want to give you an opportunity to act in accordance with law. We will give you overnight,” Chief Justice Chandrachud made the stand of the court clear to Venkataramani.

The Attorney General questioned why the State of Tamil Nadu had approached the Supreme Court to defend a man convicted of moral turpitude. “What fundamental right of the State is violated here?” Venkataramani challenged.

Chief Justice Chandrachud asked what else was the State supposed to do. “If the Governor does not follow the Constitution, what does the State do except come to a constitutional court,” the CJI reacted.

The Chief Justice asked Venkataramani whether this was the “best argument” the Governor had at his disposal in court. “Is this the best argument the Governor has - That ‘I will defend my constitutionally illegal conduct by pointing fingers at how the State has come to the Supreme Courts’”.

Not in accordance

Chief Justice Chandrachud said if the Supreme Court has stayed Ponmudy’s conviction, the “law has to follow the course”. “We don’t know who had advised the Governor, but the advice was not in accordance with the law,” the Chief Justice told the Attorney General.

Chief Minister MK Stalin had on March 13 written to the Governor communicating the State Cabinet decision to have Ponmudy back as Minister, saying he was the best man suitable for the job. The State had moved the apex court when the Governor wrote back four daysz, on March 17, refusing to play ball on the ground of constitutional morality.

“Does the Governor mean the Supreme Court also acted against constitutional morality by suspending his conviction?” senior advocate AM Singhvi, for Tamil Nadu, questioned the Governor’s conduct.

Senior advocate P. Wilson, also for Tamil Nadu, said the Governor had no individual discretion in the appointment of a State Minister or suitability of a candidate.

“The Governor has to follow the advice of the Chief Minister-led State Cabinet under Article 164 (1) of the Constitution,” Mr. Wilson, assisted by advocate Sabarish Subramanian, submitted.