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Parliament Secretary appointment set aside

 

Context

  • A petition filed by Lawyer Jagmohan Singh Bhatti made the Punjab and Haryana High Court on Wednesday set aside the appointment of four MLAs as chief parliamentary secretaries in the Manohar Lal Khattar government.

The Case

  • The Khattar government appointed four MLAs, Shyam Singh Rana, Kamal Gupta, Bakshish Singh Virk and Seema Trikha as Chief Parliamentary secretaries in the Haryana government in July 2015.
  • In his petition, Mr Bhatti contended that under the constitution there was no provision for the post of chief parliamentary secretaries and their appointment.
  • He argued that besides being unconstitutional, it was also a burden on the State funds and the taxpayer.
  • However, the court, on the request of the Haryana government, has put a stay on the implementation of the decision for three weeks.
  • The State government opposed the plea saying that chief parliamentary secretaries were appointed to assist Ministers in public interest in vision of their varied duties.

Who are Parliament Secretaries?

  • Parliament Secretaries are ruling party members appointed to assist members.
  • They are regarded for all practical purposes as deputy ministers having access to all the official files and documents.

Provision of Parliament Secretary

  • Number of states in the Indian Union have instituted the post of Parliamentary Secretary.
  • A Parliament Secretary often holds the rank of Minister of State and has the same entitlements and is assigned to a government department.
  • Manipur, HP, Mizoram, Assam, Rajasthan, Punjab, Goa are some of the states where MLAs have been appointed Parliament Secretaries by the Government.
  • The posts of ‘parliamentary secretary’ or ‘chief parliamentary secretary’ is instituted to accommodate MLAs who could not become ministers.
  • Accommodated as a junior minister as Article 164 (1A) which limits the total number of ministers to 15% of the strength of the assembly.
  • Appointments are at the pleasure of the chief minister.
  • A parliamentary secretary may get charge of one or more departments if the chief minister so desires.
  • The number of parliament secretaries correspond to the number of cabinet members.

Privileges assigned to Parliament Secretary

  • Privileges provided to a Parliament Secretary is same as that of a Minister.
  • Including a substantial salary and allowances, official accommodation, official vehicle, office space, secretarial staff and, in some states like Punjab, police protection.

Is it Constitutional?

  • The 91stAmendment of the Indian Constitution introduced Article 164 (1A) to the Constitution.
  • Article 164 (1A) provides for limiting the number of ministers in the state cabinets.
  • The total number of ministers including the Chief Minister, has to be within 15 per cent of the total number of members of the legislative assembly of the state.
  • Article 164 (1A) was inserted in the Constitution on the recommendation of the National Commission for Review of the Working of the headed by former Chief Justice of India, M.N. Venkatachaliah on misuse and drainage of public money to put a ban on over-sized cabinet.  T
  • The Constitution specifies conditions which disqualify MPs, MLAs, Municipality and Panchayat members from membership of their respective institutions.
  • Holding an “Office of Profit” under the state or central government.
  • The essence of this disqualification is that there should be no conflict between the duties and interests of an elected member.
  • MPs and MLAs hold the government accountable for its work, and if they held an “Office of Profit” under the government, they might be susceptible to government influence and might not discharge their constitutional mandate fully.

Office of Profit

  • The term ‘office of profit’ is used in Article 102 (1)(A) of the Indian Constitution.
  • It bars a member of the Indian Parliament from holding an office that would give its occupant the opportunity to gain a financial advantage or benefit.
  • It refers to a post under central/state government which yields salaries, perks and other benefits.
  • Article 191 of the Indian Constitution has not defined what an office of profit is.
  • This has paved the way for the courts to lay down the law.

Case history

  • Various petitions in the High Court have challenged the appointment of Parliament Secretary.
  • 2015: Because a Parliament Secretary often holds the rank of Minister of State, the Calcutta High Court, quashed the appointment of 24 Parliamentary Secretaries in West Bengal dubbing it unconstitutional.
  • In May 2015, the Hyderabad High Court stayed the appointment of Parliamentary Secretaries in Telangana.
  • 2009: Similar action was taken by the Bombay High Court for the appointment of two Parliamentary Secretaries in Goa.
  • 2005: Himachal Pradesh High Court took the same decision for the appointment of eight Chief Parliamentary Secretaries and four Parliamentary Secretaries in the State.
  • The matter is sub-judice in Punjab and Haryana.
  • 1996:The then Delhi CM Sahib Singh Verma from the BJP wanted to appoint Nand Kishore Garg as his parliamentary secretary, and for this, he sought permission from the then Leader of Opposition and Congress leader Jag Pravesh Chandra. Permission was given and Garg was appointed.
  • 1998:Similarly, Congress CM Sheila Dikshit after assuming power wanted to appoint Ajay Maken as parliamentary secretary.

Delhi much hyped case

  • In July 2016, the high court had deferred the hearing of a PIL challenging the AAP government’s decision to appoint 21 legislators as parliamentary secretaries.
  • President Pranab Mukherjee had refused to give his assent to the proposed legislation that sought to protect, with retrospective effect 21 AAP MLAs from disqualification for occupying additional posts that were deemed unconstitutional.
  • The appointment of 21 MLAs as parliamentary secretaries became a controversy as it was considered an office of profit.
  • There are several cases where right from Congress party president Sonia Gandhi to former Delhi chief ministers Sheila Dikshit and Saheb Singh Verma wisely avoided from being in a controversy on the issue of office of profit.
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