The much-awaited ruling of the Punjab and Haryana high court, setting aside appointment of chief parliamentary secretaries (CPSes) in Punjab, deals a blow to the Parkash Singh Badal government’s politics of patronage. It has also laid bare the illegality that successive governments of the state have cleverly committed in violation of the Constitution.
The timing is significant, barely six months before the assembly polls are due. Already, the SAD-BJP government has been pulling out all stops to park politicians and powerful people in different boards, corporations and commissions by amending rules and increasing the number of posts. As the ruling says that neither the governor nor the legislature has “competence or legislative sanction” to frame rules on appointment and services of CPSes, this closes any door to appoint CPSes in future too via the state assembly.
The Badal government not only parked 24 MLAs as CPSes, but there are about two-dozen non-elected people given status of minister or CPS — an illegality in light of this verdict.
The ruling, sources said, will be challenged in the Supreme Court, though advocate general (AG) Ashok Aggarwal only said, “The government will decide the next course of action.”
With the assembly elections due early next year, the poll code of conduct is likely to come into force by December, so the ruling will not hurt the SAD-BJP much in this term. But these CPSes will have to bear the stigma of being sacked by the court — adding to a crisis of bad image that this government has been battling in view of 10 years of incumbency.
The ruling brings under the spotlight how the government devised a “roundabout way” of bypassing the Constitutional mandate. The 91st constitutional amendment of 2004 caps the size of the council of ministers at 15% of the House strength at both central and state level. Punjab assembly has 117 members and there are already 18 ministers, including the chief minister. CPS post was a means to placate those unable to get a slot. Of the 18 CPSes sacked immediately, 15 are from the SAD and three from BJP. This judgment will also have a bearing on the fate of six other CPSes – four of the SAD and two of BJP— who were appointed this year. The high court is hearing a case on that too.
WHO STARTED IT?
“Every CM wants to keep his flock together. These appointments fly in the face of the constitutional amendment. You are giving them pays and perks of minister without calling them minister. This is unfortunate,” a former Punjab chief secretary said. More significant was the questionable practice of files being routed through them. They are attached with ministers but in some cases the ministers had refused to share the files. The logic here is that these CPSes do not take any constitutional oath of secrecy.
All political parties are sailing in the same boat on the issue. Punjab Congress chief Capt Amarinder Singh was quick to blame the government for having “failed to follow the procedure”. But it was the last Congress government (2002-07) led by Amarinder that set the tradition of appointing CPSes in spite of the Constitutional amendment. By a May 2006 notification, it framed the Punjab Parliamentary Secretaries and Chief Parliamentary Secretaries (Terms and Conditions of Appointment) Rules 2006. Technically, an MLA cannot hold another office of profit, but in 2006 the Vidhan Sabha took the CPS post out of the ambit of that law.
Haryana also has CPSes, while in Himachal Pradesh such parliamentary secretaries were appointed by changing the law after a court quashing.
The money part of it
Financially, in Punjab the emoluments to CPSes are only a bit higher than those to ‘usual’ MLAs
They get added Rs 1.5cr a year as discretionary grant for constituency development
CPS salary per month is Rs 40,000, while ‘usual’ MLA gets Rs 25,000.
CPSes got sumptuary allowance (Rs 5,000), compensatory allowance (Rs 5,000); constituency, secretarial, postal allowance (Rs 25,000)
Other perks take the pay close to Rs 1.5 lakh/month, while an MLA gets around Rs 1 lakh on these counts
Real catch is in the daily and mileage allowances (private vehicle used for official purpose) at Rs 15 per km. Their income tax too is paid by the government, while they also get a hefty house rent allowance (Rs 50,000 a month) or government house.