At a time when the Captain Amarinder Singh government is making all the right noises, be it ending VVIP culture or crackdown on drugs, it finds itself in an unenviable position of meeting aspirations of party leaders and workers waiting for spoils of power after dry run for 10 years.
The spree of political appointments in the chief minister's office — six OSDs, four advisers (one cabinet rank, two minister of state rank and one ADGP rank) and four secretaries — has raised eyebrows about the financial implications of the move on the cash-starved state.
There is clamour among not just Amarinder loyalists for posts of ministers of state and chief parliamentary secretary but also some young and restless MLAs who want to be "groomed" for bigger roles. That explains the hurry of the government to bring a legislation to appoint CPSes, which has been deferred to the budget session slated in June.
Former Punjab CM Parkash Singh Badal, who had appointed 24 chief parliamentary secretaries ignoring the constitutional cap of 18 for Punjab cabinet, on Monday said he would oppose any move of the government to appoint CPSes. In addition, Badal as CM and his son Sukhbir Badal as deputy CM had a fleet of advisers and OSDs, one for every move they made.
Hitting back, Amarinder defended both the political appointments in CMO and proposed CPS legislation while speaking to mediapersons after the governor's address on Tuesday. "How can Badals object to CPSes? They made them first. The number of advisers appointed by me is also less than by the Badal father-son duo. Badal as CM had 16 advisers and OSDs and Sukhbir had 14. Which makes it 30. Look at Sidhu (minister Navjot Singh Sidhu), he has three departments with him — local government, tourism and cultural affairs. Does he not need a CPS to help him?" Amarinder said.
But it is not just the numbers game. All the CPses appointed by the Badal government were stripped of their posts following Punjab and Haryana high court verdict holding them as "unconstitutional". Also a matter of concern is Punjab's precarious finances. Sources in the finance department said the Badal government's 24 CPSes cost the state ₹9 crore annually. "Each CPS costs the state ₹3 lakh per month (including his pay, perks and car). If the Amarinder government appoints 18 (one each with a cabinet minister), it will still be around ₹7 crore," they said.
Punjab finance minister Manpreet Badal, who wants both the symbolism of austerity and actual gains of low salary bills, had a different reason for the government not tabling the bill in the current session. "First the cabinet has to be expanded for CPS to be appointed. Who will they be attached to otherwise?" he said. Amarinder's legal hawks too may have advised against a hasty move that can hit a legal roadblock, and the carrot will keep dangling for wannabe ministers and CPSes.
WHO GETS WHAT
Rs 30,000 monthly salary, official accommodation, vehicle, unlimited fuel for official car, executive class air and train journey, office staff, personal staff and telephones. The staff includes a stenographer, private secretary and peon.
Minister of state
Rs 30,000 monthly salary, official accommodation and camp office, official car, air and train journey and phones. The staff includes a personal assistant, a driver and a peon.
Chief parliamentary secretary
Rs 20,000 monthly salary, government accommodation or a rented house of up to Rs 50,000, official car and phones. Staff includes senior-scale stenographer, a clerk and a peon.