The Punjab and Haryana high court on Friday quashed appointment of 18 chief parliamentary secretaries (CPSes) in the SAD-BJP government of Punjab, ruling that they are acting as “junior ministers” in contravention of the Constitution’s intent to limit the council of ministers to 15% of the legislature’s strength.
Further, the HC bench of justices SS Saron and Ramendra Jain — ruling on two petitions filed in 2012 — said that neither the governor nor the legislature has competence or sanction to frame rules regulating these appointments. “Such posts are not part of regular services of the state under the executive, forming part of the bodies involved in the governance of the state,” the bench said in its 71-page judgment, adding, that the appointments “are in fact a roundabout way of bypassing the Constitutional mandate… and, therefore, have to be invalidated”.
In April 2012, after forming a government for the second consecutive time, chief minister Parkash Singh Badal had appointed 21 CPSes, of whom 18 still held the office. As for the six CPSes added in April this year, their appointment is also under challenge, but in a separate petition that was filed after the order in this case had been reserved in July 2015. This order, however, will have a bearing on their fate too. “Admittedly, there is no post of Parliamentary Secretary or Chief Parliamentary Secretary in the Constitution,” the HC has expressly said.
In their petitions (public interest litigations or PILs), lawyers Jagmohan Bhatti and HC Arora had termed the appointment of CPSes as a violation of the 91st constitutional amendment of 2004 that put the 15% cap on size of the council of ministers under Article 164 (1A).
The matter had first come before the HC in 2005, wherein a challenge was laid to similar appointments at the time; and later in 2007; but due to prolonged hearings the petitions became infructuous as the tenure of the government got over in five years.
‘Will have effect on Haryana CPSes too’
The HC’s decision to quash CPS-appointment in Punjab will have a bearing on similar appointments made by the Manohar Lal Khattar-led BJP government in Haryana in July 2015. “More or less, the issues are the same. No government can circumvent the Constitution to make CPS appointments,” lawyer Jagmohan Bhatti, petitioner in the Punjab case, said. The matter of Haryana comes up for hearing on August 24. Haryana has four CPSes: Shyam Singh, Bakhshish Singh Virk, Seema Trikha and Kamal Gupta. Appointments made by the previous Haryana government of the Congress led by Bhupinder Singh Hooda too were under challenge, but the petitions became infructous as its term got over.
Who are the ones sacked?
As such, appointment of 21 CPSes in Punjab was challenged since that was the number at the time of the petition being filed. The immediate effect of Friday’s judgment, however, is on the 18 (of those 21) who still hold the post. As for the other three, Sohan Singh Thandal has since been made a minister, Inderbir Singh Bolaria has been dropped as CPS, and Amarjit Singh Sahi has passed away. Of these 18, three are from the BJP and 15 from the SAD. Here are their names, along with their constituencies, and the main departments they currently held as CPS (according to the Punjab government website).
Shiromani Akali Dal
Chaudhary Nand Lal (Balachaur), forests and wildlife, labour
Balvir Singh Ghunas (Dirba), jails, tourism, cultural affairs
Des Raj Dhugga (Sri Hargobindpur), animal husbandry, fisheries, dairy
Harmeet Singh Sandhu (Tarn Taran), public works
Mantar Singh Brar (Kotkapura), rural development and panchayats
Mohinder Kaur Josh (Sham Chaurasi), irrigation
Avinash Chander (Phillaur), higher education and languages
Amarpal Singh Ajnala ‘Bonny’ (Ajnala), technical education
Gurbachan Singh Babbehali (Gurdaspur), agriculture
Virsa Singh Valtoha (Khemkaran), water supply & sanitation, defence services welfare
NK Sharma (Dera Bassi), industry and commerce
F Nesara Khatoon (Malerkotla), social security, development of women & children
Parkash Chand Garg (Sunam), food, civil supplies and consumer affairs
Pawan Kumar Tinu (Adampur), sports & youth services, SC/BC welfare
Sarup Chand Singla (Bathinda-Urban), excise and taxation
Bharatiya Janata Party
Som Parkash (Phagwara), local government
KD Bhandari (Jalandhar-North), co-operation
Navjot Kaur Sidhu (Amritsar-East), health and family welfare
What about 6 recent appointees?
Friday’s HC verdict shall also have bearing on the fate of the six more CPSes appointed recently; though their matter is being heard separately by the court, as the judgment declared on Friday had already been reserved by the court last year, before their appointment. Those six are:
· Manjit Singh Mianwind (Baba Bakala), science, tech & environment
· Darshan Singh Shivalik (Gill), housing and urban development
· Gurpartap Singh Wadala (Nakodar), power
· Gurtej Singh Ghuriana (Balluana), transport
· Sukhjit Kaur Sahi (Dasuya), revenue and rehabilitation
· Seema Kumari (Bhoa), education