Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal’s decision to appoint 21 MLAs as ‘parliamentary secretaries (PS)’ to assist his six ministers has drawn sharp criticism from the Congress and BJP which called it a waste of public money and a way to oblige his men.
Ever since the Delhi Assembly was reconstituted in 1993, there have never been more than three parliamentary secretaries in one government. In the first term (1993-98) of the Delhi assembly, BJP CM Sahib Singh Verma had Nand Kishore Garg as his PS. In the next term (1998-03), Congress CM Sheila Dikshit had one PS. In the next two (2003-08 and 2008-13) terms, she had three each.
“Not only did the number surprise me, it makes no sense to me. It is unnecessary. I never had more than three parliamentary secretaries in any of my tenure. Even for that we took permission from the Centre,” said Dikshit.
AAP says Delhi has grown exponentially in the last two decades ever since a central Act restricted the number of ministers in the city-state to six. “But all this while the volume of work of the government has increased manifold. The move will ease the pressure,” said an AAP leader. On an average, one minister is dealing with five portfolios.
But the BJP sees a design. Vijender Gupta, the BJP’s leader in the Delhi Assembly, said: “AAP is distributing lollipops to keep their divided flock together. It is an unimaginative move that will saddle the administrative machinery. The Delhi government never saw such blatant misuse of public funds. You cannot double bill the government.”
But AAP refuted the charge. “Parliamentary secretaries will not get any remuneration or perks from the government, meaning no burden on the exchequer. They may use government transport for official purposes and work stations would be provided in the ministers’ offices,” said a party spokesperson.
The NCT of Delhi Act says there can be only six (excluding the CM) ministers but there is no cap on the number of MLAs and others to assist ministers.
AAP says the move will ensure better service delivery, a claim Dikshit doesn’t buy. The CM administers oath to parliamentary secretaries. But no file goes to them. They don’t have powers. How will they work? The cabinet takes decisions. The administration does service delivery. These parliamentary secretaries are part of neither,” she said.
Constitution expert SK Sharma says parliamentary secretaries cannot function in the house on behalf of ministers they are assisting. “Technically, they are not part of the government. The job of an MLA is to make the law and raise issues in the house, and not to administer,” said Sharma, a former secretary of Delhi Assembly.
AAP says these 21 secretaries will continue working as MLAs. “They will have work stations in the Delhi secretariat. But they will mostly be on field assignments. Most of AAP’s 67 MLAs are first-timers. We want to groom them,” said a member of the chief minister’s core team.
BJP has only three members in the assembly but it says it will fight the move. “It is a backdoor tactic to create a shadow cabinet. I have written to L-G Najeeb Jung to intervene and check the pointless largesse,” Gupta said.