After sand mines e-auction controversy, Punjab government’s conflict of interest bill looks iffy now
Wannabe ministers will have to pass the litmus test of the party’s own making — the proposed “conflict of interest” law which was promised in the Congress poll manifesto and by the Amarinder government in the first cabinet meeting held in March.punjab Updated: Jun 05, 2017 08:55 IST
Seventy-seven MLAs and just nine ministers! Every MLA who has won a fourth, third and even a second time is an aspirant for a ministerial berth in Punjab. Chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh had sworn in with nine ministers and eight more cabinet posts are up for grabs on criteria of loyalty, caste, religion and region.
But the wannabe ministers will have to pass the litmus test of the party’s own making — the proposed “conflict of interest” law which was promised in the Congress poll manifesto and by the Amarinder government in the first cabinet meeting held in March.
With one of the ministers, Rana Gurjit Singh, embroiled in an controversy over “benami” sand mining bids and some wannabe ministers have stakes in liquor, mining and transport businesses, the prospect of the bill being tabled in the budget session in June now looks iffy.
The proposed legislation has already been diluted in the two months of the party’s coming to power. The poll manifesto had kept MLAs within its ambit, but the CM later said the MLAs will not fall under its purview.
Some of the wannabe ministers such as three-time MLA Balbir Sidhu have stakes in the liquor business while the family of four-time MLA Amrik Dhillon has stakes in both liquor and sand mining. Then there are those facing criminal cases. The name of senior MLA OP Soni had figured in a drug case though party sources said he had been given a clean chit. Some Congress MLAs have stakes in the transport business, which was monopolised by the Badal clan and their protégés and remains so.
Finance minister Manpreet Badal, the chief proponent of the law and the man who drafted the manifesto, said the government was working on tabling it. But the government remains noncommittal on whether it would be brought in the June session.
Manpreet’s candid statement that old cartels with deep pockets, both of Congress and Akalis, had bagged liquor contracts and same will be the story for sand mines, is proving prophetic as those owing allegiance to both the ruling Congress and the Akali Dal have bagged mining contacts in this month’s auctions. Manpreet had then also said their government cannot end “mafia raj” in its first year. “You have to be a politician to do business in Punjab. The culture needs to change,” he had said.
Amarinder will not only need to negotiate the promised conflict of interest law but also one on appointing MLAs as chief parliamentary secretaries. Many MLAs from party’s youth brigade hope to be accommodated as ministers of state or CPSes.
But the CPS appointment bill, if tabled, will run into a legal hurdle as the Punjab and Haryana high court had earlier set aside appointment of CPSes by the Haryana government.
The Amarinder government had avoided a hurried legislation in its first session soon after coming to power but is keen to push it in the budget session.
In power after 10 years, the Congress seems to be struggling to walk the talk on “high idealism” promised in the poll manifesto and restless ministers, MLAs, leaders and workers vying for share in spoils of power. And the opposition to the “high idealism” is from within. Congress MLA Bharat Bhushan Ashu says the conflict of interest law needs a wider debate on where conflict starts as business of every politician can run into conflict with the proposed law.