Govt vs Governor: New spat in TN as DMK reacts to Gov Ravi’s ‘Bill is dead’ comment; calls for ‘massive protests’

Congress leader and former finance minister P Chidambaram weighed in on the DMK's side and slammed the Governor.

BySouth First Desk

Published Apr 07, 2023 | 2:53 PMUpdatedApr 07, 2023 | 8:21 PM

RN Ravi DMK Stalin

The friction between the DMK-led government in Tamil Nadu and Governor RN Ravi over the latter’s penchant to withhold Bills passed by the state Assembly has surfaced yet again.

The DMK government has taken umbrage to Ravi’s comments on Thursday, 6 April, that withholding Bills passed by the state Legislature was entirely up to his discretion, and slammed the Governor for sitting on the Bills, contending that it amounted to “dereliction of duty”.

Chief Minister MK Stalin, who has been bitterly critical of the Ravi on several occasion in the past, reiterated that in a federal democracy the Governor did not have the authority to keep Bills in abeyance.

“It is an act of ineffective paralysis. If pressure is mounted, the Governor will ask a question and send it back to the government and with this his duty is done,” Stalin said.

Related: The dark side of online gaming: Why it is not all fun and games

What is the tension about?

The Tamil Nadu government and the Governor have been at loggerheads over a Bill that aims to ban online gambling in the state.

Tamil Nadu Governor RN Ravi on Wednesday, 8 March, returned the Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Online Gaming and Regulation of Online Games Act of 2022 — passed unanimously by the Tamil Nadu Assembly on 18 October last year, saying that the Bill lacked legal competence.

Based on the recommendation given by the Justice Chandru committee, after reports of several people dying by suicide after betting and gambling in online games, the Tamil Nadu government had passed a Bill banning online games.

In November, Ravi — through a communication — sought clarifications on some sections of the Bill from the state’s Legal Affairs Department.

Related: RN Ravi returns Online Gambling Prohibition Bill after 4 months

An ordinance passed in this regard lapsed on 27 November, as the Governor didn’t give assent to the bill passed the previous month.

The Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly re-adopted the Prohibition of Online Gambling and Regulation of Online Games Bill on Thursday, March 23 — after Governor RN Ravi had returned it.

While tabling the Bill again, Chief Minister Stalin said the government was duty-bound to protect its citizens.

“After 131 days, Governor RN Ravi returned the Bill with suggestions for a few changes. The queries raised by the Governor and the replies to them were approved by the Cabinet. Now it is placed before the House. I request all members to pass the Bill,” Stalin had said in the House.

Related: TN Assembly passes Bill to ban online gambling a second time

What did Ravi say in latest comments?

In an interaction with civil service aspirants at the “Think to Dare” series held at the Raj Bhavan in Chennai, Ravi, referring to Bills passed by the Assembly and forwarded to him for presidential assent, said, “The Governor has three options: Give assent, withhold — meaning the Bill is dead, which the Supreme Court and Constitution uses as decent language to mean reject — and third, reserve the Bill for the President. This is the Governor’s discretion.”

Responding to the comment, Stalin said it was “unbecoming” of a person who holds a Constitutional position to “withhold without boldly accepting or opposing” the bills.

The chief minister also claimed that the Governor had made a habit of delaying Bills, ordinances and amendments conceived by the people’s representatives and passed by the Assembly, and sent to him for approval.

The DMK chief, who has in the past written about this matter in a letter to the President, accused the Governor of “failing” in his administrative duties, and “slipping away” from his responsibilities.

“There was no proper reason for his action, nor a reply to the government. About 14 files have been withheld by him, so far,” Stalin added.

Also Read: All you need to know about ordinance banning online gambling

Chidambaram weighs in

On Friday, 7 April, senior Congress leader and former finance minister P Chidambaram weighed in on the side of the DMK and accused BJP-appointed governors of “trampling upon democracy” by transgressing their powers.

Chidambaram said the Tamil Nadu Governor has given a “strange and peculiar” definition to the withholding of assent to Bills passed by the state Assembly and has said it means the “Bill is dead”.

“Actually, when a Governor withholds assent for no valid reason, it means ‘parliamentary democracy is dead’. Governor is bound to grant assent or withhold assent or return the bill. If the Bill is passed again, the Governor is obliged to grant assent,” the former finance minister said in a series of tweets.

The Governor is “a mere constitutional functionary” and is the “symbolic head”, Chidambaram said, adding that his or her powers are severely restricted and, in fact, they have “no powers in most matters”.

“A Governor is bound to act on the aid and advice of the chief minister and the Council of Ministers. By transgressing their powers, BJP-appointed Governors are trampling upon democracy,” Chidambaram said.

Also Read: BJP passes resolution against DMK, Stalin for humiliating RN Ravi

Call for protests

The DMK-led Secular Progressive Alliance (SPA) said that ever since Ravi assumed office in 2021, his speeches and activities have been controversial and mysterious. “Our struggle will not cease until he stops activities that lower the Assembly’s dignity.”

On April 5, Ravi had stoked fresh controversy by remarking that foreign funds had fuelled the protests against the Sterlite plant in Thoothukudi and Kudankulam nuclear power plant. While addressing civil service aspirants in the Raj Bhavan, Ravi said such protests were aimed at hindering progress.

Slamming the Governor for his comment, the DMK and its allies on Friday announced a massive protest against him on 12 April.

“To say that the Kudankulam (nuclear power plant) and Sterlite protests were driven by funds from abroad is a denigration of the Tamil Nadu people. These are people’s struggles in which lakhs (of them) took part. What is the ulterior motive behind diverting such protests as a foreign conspiracy?” the SPA asked.

Also Read: DMK trends #GetOutRavi after TN Governor delays online gambling bill

(With inputs from PTI)