Punjab minister Channi had recommended 6 names for law officers, all SCs
After openly questioning his own government on why there was no Dalit on the list of 28 law officers appointed last month, Punjab technical education minister Charanjit Singh Channi drew flak from his colleagues in the cabinet meeting held on Thursday.
Chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh had reportedly taken a dig at Channi at the meeting saying the minister had recommended two names, both non-Dalits.
Soon, other ministers are learnt to have chimed in, criticising Channi for the “wrong timing” of the outburst, two days before the Shahkot assembly bypoll. The details were later “leaked” to the media. Channi was not present at the meeting as he had left for the UK.
But the letter of recommendation written by Channi to the advocate general’s office (a copy is with HT) shows the minister had recommended six names and all were Scheduled Caste. The letter dated November 11, 2017, reads: “As advised by the chief minister, I recommend the following candidates to be considered for appointment in the office of the AG. It may be mentioned here that all the candidates belong to SC community.” Of the six candidates, three had applied for the post of deputy advocate general and three for assistant advocate general.
Those whose names Channi recommended say they had approached the minister as law officers are political appointments. “I was shortlisted last year too, but not selected. Only the influential ones are chosen,” says Onkar Rai, who applied for post of deputy AG and belongs to Ad-dharmi community.
Yagyadeep, who had applied for post of assistant AG, says Section 4 (7) of Punjab Scheduled Caste and Backward Classes (Reservation in services) Act, 2006, provides for reservation for Dalits in all government vacancies, including contractual and ad hoc appointments. “But of the 156 law officers appointed so far by the Congress regime, just five are SCs and one belongs to a backward class. I had applied last year too. Both Urmur MLA Sangat Singh Gilzian and Kartarpur MLA Surinder Chaudhary (the former belongs to a backward class and latter is a Dalit) had recommended my name. This time, Channi recommended it too,” he says. Gilzian had quit the party post after being denied a berth in cabinet expansion saying backward classes were “totally ignored”.
At the heart of the controversy is the Punjab Law Officers (engagement) Act, 2017, which kept no provision for reservation for Dalits and BCs. The Act has been challenged in the Punjab and Haryana high court but the court has not ordered a stay on it. The 2006 Act also provides for reservation in promotion, which too was challenged. The state was not able to provide quantifiable data on backwardness of the classes and their representation in public appointments. In her opinion dated April 27, 2018 additional advocate general Rameeza Hakeem said: “No case for appeal unless the state can justify quantifiable data.” Channi had highlighted the state’s “failure” to present data to assert Dalit law officers are needed to protect rights of the community.
Though voices of dissent among Dalit MLAs are growing louder the party, Channi remains a lone ranger in the cabinet. In the full house of 18, there are three Dalit ministers. Interestingly, Dalit welfare minister Sadhu Singh Dharamsot was among the first to train guns at Channi on Thursday. Aruna Chaudhary, who is related to Channi, reportedly took no sides.
Hailing from Baazigar community, which comprises just 1.05% of the state’s population, Dharamsot was able to get a cabinet berth. However, Valmikis, the second-largest caste among the Dalits failed to get any representation. So did the backward classes, which make 22% of the state’s population. Channi could not be reached for comments.