At 15-minute Punjab Cabinet meet, ministers want chief secretary to be sacked
Karan Avtar Singh had taken on the ministers at a pre-cabinet meeting on the excise policy on Saturday, insisting that the changes recommended by the ministers to the policy could not be taken on board.Updated: May 11, 2020, 19:47 IST
Punjab cabinet ministers on Monday asked Chief Minister Amarinder Singh to sack chief secretary Karan Avtar Singh and declared that they would not attend cabinet meetings as long as he attends these meetings.
Karan Avtar Singh had taken on the ministers at a pre-cabinet meeting on the excise policy on Saturday, insisting that the changes recommended by the ministers to the policy could not be taken on board. The face-off had led to ministers storming out of the meeting on Saturday; finance minister Manpreet Singh Badal was the first one to walk out. Saturday’s cabinet meeting was deferred to Monday.
At an informal meeting ahead of the cabinet meeting, the ministers decided to stand their ground and walk out of the meeting if the chief secretary is present.
The chief secretary was advised to stay away from Monday’s cabinet meeting and additional chief secretary (home) Satish Chandra was tasked to officiate in his absence.
As soon as Monday’s cabinet meeting started, the ministers told chief minister Amarinder Singh that they would not attend cabinet meetings in case the chief secretary is present.
This could be a little problematic. According to the rulebook, the chief secretary of a state is also the secretary to the cabinet, coordinates all meetings of the cabinet and signs off on the official records.
“The chief minister has accepted our demand because he asked all of us to bring our grouse on record,” said Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa, the minister of cooperation and jails, told Hindustan Times.
“Manpreet (finance minister Manpreet Singh Badal) and I said that the behavior of the chief secretary is not acceptable. He is rude and doesn’t understand that officers and elected representatives are two sides of a coin,” technical education minister Charanjeet Singh Channi told HT.
Channi said the chief secretary had been rude to him in the past too and had even questioned his integrity.
Channi said the chief minister had promised to act.
A senior Punjab minister said the chief secretary Karan Avtar Singh had signalled that he was ready to apologise to bury the hatchet. But Manpreet Singh Badal has insisted that he isn’t game.
“Some ministers want to give the chief secretary a second chance but the finance minister is adamant,” said a cabinet minister on conditions of anonymity.
The row over the chief secretary has its origin in a pre-cabinet meeting held on Saturday when minister Charanjit Channi demanded that someone be held accountable for the loss of revenue due to the state’s flawed excise policy. Chief secretary Karan Avtar Singh, who found some of the suggestions made by ministers to be unacceptable, reminded the minister that policies are only implemented after the approval of the ministers.
Finance minister Manpreet Singh Badal promptly shot back at the official’s reply that was perceived to be too curt.
“If the officers have already made up their mind on the policy, what was the fun of discussing the matter with the ministers?” Badal said moments before storming out of the meeting. Other ministers also left soon after.
On the agenda item that was before the cabinet, the ministers decided to authorise chief minister Amarinder Singh to take the decision. The liquor contractors in the state want the government to compensate them for the 45 days that liquor vends had to be closed.