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Sunday, Sep 15, 2019

Office-of-profit bill on hold, Punjab governor goes for legal opinion

The Punjab State Legislature (Prevention of Disqualification) (Amendment) Bill, 2018, was tabled by Amarinder Singh-led government to placate the sulking MLAs after cabinet expansion in April this year.

punjab Updated: Oct 28, 2018 09:28 IST
Sukhdeep Kaur
Sukhdeep Kaur
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
Punjab governor VP Singh Badnore
Punjab governor VP Singh Badnore(HT File )

With his assent to the office-of-profit bill awaited nearly two months after the Vidhan Sabha passed it to make the MLAs eligible to hold plum positions in the state boards and corporations, Punjab governor VP Singh Badnore has sought legal opinion on the matter.

The Punjab State Legislature (Prevention of Disqualification) (Amendment) Bill, 2018, was tabled by Amarinder Singh-led government to placate the sulking MLAs after cabinet expansion in April this year. The expansion had ruffled the feathers of Dalit and backward class legislators as well as party old-timers who had accused Amarinder of inducting most of his loyalists.

“The governor is seeking legal opinion on the subject,” secretary to governor, JM Balamurugan, said.

It was first sent by the Congress government in the form of an ordinance to the governor after being approved by the state cabinet on June 27 this year. But Badnore refused his assent and asked the government to get it legislative sanction as a bill. On August 28, the Punjab assembly during its monsoon session passed the bill to bring several categories of positions out of the ‘office-of-profit’ ambit.

The bill entitles the holder of an office to draw compensatory allowance by way of daily allowance, conveyance allowance, house rent and travel allowance, which will impose a new burden on the exchequer of the cash-strapped state.

The courts have struck down the proposals by different state governments, including Haryana, Delhi and Punjab, to appoint MLAs as chief parliamentary secretaries and parliamentary secretaries, on grounds of ‘office of profit’. The bill is being seen as a way to circumvent the law.

Heartburn among MLAs

More than the delay, the government’s move to hand out plum positions to retired bureaucrats is causing heartburn among the ruling party MLAs. Recently, former IAS officer DP Reddy, who was due to retire in December, took premature retirement to take over as the chairman of the Punjab State Food Commission. On October 18, former bureaucrat Tejinder Kaur had assumed charge as the chairperson of the Punjab State Scheduled Caste Commission.

For the post of the chairman of the Punjab State Education Board (PSEB), a retired officer from Rajasthan, Manohar Kant Kalohia, was handpicked and Lok Nath Angra, a retired cop, was nominated member of the Punjab Public Service Commission (PPSC).

Some Congress MLAs rue that the posts were promised by Congress general secretary Asha Kumari and Amarinder in the run-up to the assembly elections to those who were denied tickets. But among politicians too, the positions are being cornered by defeated senior candidates such as Rajinder Kaur Bhattal (vice-chairperson, state planning board) or those like Lal Singh (chairman, Mandi Board), whose son got the ticket and is now Samana MLA; or loyalists from the CM’s home turf Patiala (KK Sharma, chairman, Pepsu)

“Congress president Rahul Gandhi is keen that party workers and leaders should be made a part of the implementation of government programmes and schemes. What is the liability of former bureaucrats? It’s we who face the elections. Workers are not being appointed even in market committees and improvement trusts,” said a Congress MLA, requesting anonymity.

Amarinder’s meeting with Badnore last month over the bill is also being viewed with suspicion by some MLAs. But Punjab Congress president Sunil Jakhar says the government is keen on accommodating party MLAs and leaders. “The bill was brought to address concerns over office of profit. The positions will be filled after the governor gives his nod,” Jakhar said.

There is no time bar on the governor to give his nod to the bill. He can also refuse his assent and send the bill back for reconsideration to the state legislature. If passed again, he is under obligation to give his nod. He may also send the bill for Presidents consent. The President too can send it back to the assembly. If passed again, he is under no obligation to give his assent.

First Published: Oct 28, 2018 09:25 IST