The Akali government's move to settle its defeated leaders as heads of district planning committees (DPCs), has raised a question whether it is constitutional or not.
Its reply under the Right To Information (RTI) Act to Ludhiana activist Kuldeep Khaira suggests that it installed many DPC chairmen by bypassing the appointment rules defiled in the Punjab District Planning Committees Act of 2005.
Under Section 3 (3) of the law, the state government picks the chairman by nomination from among the committee members. In Ludhiana district, former minister Hira Singh Gabria was not on the committee when appointed its head in March.
Under Section 3 (4) of the law, the committee's members are chosen from the panchayat or the municipality (as applicable) by election or nomination. Of the 14 members of the Ludhiana DPC; only Gabria was neither elected nor nominated. In Mansa, former Congress legislator Mangat Rai Bansal was appointed DPC chairman in September last year after switching over to the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD). He also was not on the committee.
In Patiala, former Congress leader Deepinder Singh Dhillon was appointed chairman of the DPC in January, a month after his joining the SAD, when he was not yet member of the committee.
Dhillon had contested the last assembly election as Congress rebel from Dera Bassi in Mohali district. Since he was an outsider, his appointment to the post surprised many Akali leaders. The information on the planning department's official website makes it clear that Akali leader Sarbjit Singh Makkar was was made DPC chairperson in Kapurthala when not even on the committee. Makkar lost the last assembly election from Kapurthala.
Based on the Right to Information (RTI) revelations in April, Dr Sandeep Kumar Gupta of Talwandi Sabo had sent legal notice to the principal secretary of the state department of planning, to ask him to clarify the government's stand on the appointments of these leaders. The government is yet to reply.
"It was a mockery of the law," said Chiranji Lal Garg, former law minister in Akali government and now Congress leader from Bathinda. "The DPC chairman's office has now become a place to settle defeated Akali leaders. It's a wrong precedent," Garg added.
In 2007 also, Akalis had appointed Sikander Singh Maluka (who is now education minister) head of the Bathinda DPC after he had lost the assembly election from Rampura Phul. The principal secretary of the planning department, Jaspal Singh, declined to comment. "Since no DPC chairman has been appointed in my tenure, I cannot comment," he said.