Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal hasn’t earned the reputation of a benevolent benefactor for nothing. Besides his regular doles, the five-time CM has also proved it with the manner in which he has liberally distributed coveted “ranks” among his non-elected associates and favourites.
There are currently 11 “eminent”, non-elected people (most of them attached with Badal) working for the state government on the “bestowed rank” of minister or chief parliamentary secretary (CPS). They find no place in the government’s rules of business, but enjoy importance in the state government, functioning as advisers in the fields of politics, agriculture,
media and industry.
“It is fine to work for the government in a normal capacity, but getting the rank of minister, minister of state or even CPS attaches importance to the post and the incumbent. The person’s acceptability improves and his work gets credence,” argues a minister-rank aide, requesting anonymity.
Besides enhancing the status, the minister or CPS rank also gets them additional privileges – a government vehicle with red beacon on top, driver, security guards, escort vehicles, hefty perks of up to `1 lakh, privileged treatment at state guest houses and vantage positions at official meetings and functions. On top of everything else, they get to rub shoulders with who’s who of the state. Their pay and perks vary though, depending on positions they hold in the government. Former Vidhan Sabha deputy speaker Bir Devinder Singh described the practice as unjustified and superficial. “It amounts to enjoying privileges one is not entitled to. Punjab is a unique example of top-heavy offices of the CM and the deputy CM, especially at a time when the state is facing fiscal constraints,” he says.
NO SET RULES OR PROCEDURE
While there are no set guidelines or procedure for selection, the present lot has been handpicked by the political bosses or the department for their expertise. A close aide of Ajmer Singh Lakhowal, chairman of Punjab Mandi Board, revealed that Lakhowal had sought the cabinet minister rank so that he could sit closest to the CM and other visiting dignitaries in official meetings.
While the CM made Tikshan Sud his political adviser with cabinet rank and gave Vineet Joshi the post of assistant media adviser to the state government with CPS rank to woo the BJP, former Akali minister Mahesh Inder Singh Grewal, who is adviser to the CM with the cabinet rank, is among a few loyalists of late Gurcharan Singh Tohra loyalists given prominence in the present government. To placate supporters of late Akali leader Jagdev Singh Talwandi, his widow was given cabinet minister rank for life.
While a few of these non-elected beneficiaries have been seeking better perks, The CM’s adviser, industry, Kamal Oswal, a top industrialist, takes no salary, but has an office in the state civil secretariat in Chandigarh and puts red beacon atop his vehicle. However, there is someone with the cabinet rank who has set an example of selfless service. Dr GS Kalkat, chairman of State Farmers Commission, works on a monthly honorarium of one rupee and has refused perks attached with the post.