The Calcutta high court in June 2015 had invalidated appointments of chief parliamentary secretaries (CPSES) made by the Mamata Banerjee government. The Bombay high court in 2009 had held similar appointments by the Goa government as violation of the Constitution. And, in neighbouring Himachal Pradesh, the high court in 2005 had quashed the appointments of CPSES.
But in Punjab, the poll-bound Parkash Singh Badal government has now increased the strength of CPSES from 19 to 24. However, the legality or otherwise of such appointments is awaiting verdict even 10 months after the judgment was reserved by a bench of the Punjab and Haryana high court following 38 hearings by a dozen benches since April 2012.
The successive governments— both in Punjab and Haryana— have taken the CPS route to circumvent the constitutional cap on the number of ministers, which should not exceed 15% of the total MLAs. The Punjab assembly has 117 MLAs and 18 ministers, including the chief minister, while there are 24 CPSES.
“The judgments should be given expeditiously by the high court. Otherwise, it creates doubt in the minds of litigants. They (judges) should not keep judgments reserved for long; and should pronounce them as early as possible,” said RL Batta, a senior advocate.
Soon after the SAD-BJP government retained power for the second consecutive term in March 2012 and appointed CPSES, a petition was filed in the high court. After completing the arguments, the high court bench reserved the case for final judgment in July 2015. But the verdict is yet to be pronounced.
Also linked to the outcome of the Punjab case is the fate of four such appointments Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar made in 2015.
SUPREME COURT ON RESERVING JUDGMENTS
In 2001, the Supreme Court bench of justices KT Thomas and RP Sethi (both retired) had formulated broad guidelines to deal with the issue of judges reserving judgments and not delivering them in “reasonable time”.
Though the Supreme Court did not set any timeframe, the chief justices were advised to monitor the delay in their respective high courts. The Supreme Court had said that on noticing that judgment had not been given within “two months”, the chief justice would draw the attention of the bench concerned and might also see the “desirability of circulating the statement of such cases within a period of six weeks from the date of conclusion of the arguments amongst the judges”. The petitioners were also given liberty to approach the same bench and even chief justice as well. If the judgment is not pronounced within six months (after being reserved) any of the parties are entitled to move an application before the chief justice with a prayer to withdraw the said case.
It was a decade back that the controversy over legality of the appointments of CPSES made by the Punjab government had reached the high court. This legal tangle, however, remained unsettled.
First, the matter had reached the high court in 2005 (Congress government) and later in 2007 (SAD-BJP government). The adjudication could not be completed. The governments changed. And the matter became infructuous.