Ministers, they don’t come easy, learns Sukhu

Shimla, Jan 9

In Himachal Pradesh, the government after a gap of around one month has finally appointed a total of nine ministers including the Chief Minister and six Chief Parliamentary secretaries. This makes a total number of 15 MLAs with status of CM, or minister.

Critics believe that, clearly the arithmetic of the newly formed Congress government in the State of Himachal Pradesh seems more political, than rational. Not only have they exceeded the limit of appointing MLAs into these roles, besides they still have to take a call on two more ministers in days to come, they stated.

Article 164 of the Constitution, after the 91st amendment in 2003, states , “(1A) The total number of Ministers, including the Chief Minister, in the Council of Ministers in a State shall not exceed fifteen per cent. of the total number of members of the Legislative Assembly of that State: Provided that the number of Ministers, including Chief Minister in a State shall not be less than twelve: Provided further that where the total number of Ministers including the Chief Minister in the Council of Ministers in any State at the commencement of the Constitution (Ninety-first Amendment) Act, 2003 exceeds the said fifteen per cent. or the number specified in the first proviso, as the case may be, then, the total number of Ministers in that State shall be brought in conformity with the provisions of this clause within six months from such date as the President may by public notification appoint.”

So the constitution of India is very clear on the percentage or number of MLAs to be elected as ministers. Now, the case of Parliamentary secretaries.

A Parliament Secretary often holds the rank of Minister of State and has the same entitlements and is assigned to a government department. However, the issue of appointment of parliamentary secretaries has remained debatable ever since.

Various State governments have been appointing the same. Yet, most of the time, whenever the number has exceeded the 15 percent mark; such appointments have been challenged in the court. PILs filed in various High Courts on the matter have argued that the appointment of Parliament Secretaries is ultra vires the 91st Amendment of the Indian Constitution which introduced Article 164 (1A) to the Constitution.

Meanwhile, as far as about the appointment of six Chief Parliamentary Secretaries (CPS) by Himachal Pradesh CM Sukhu, Sanjeev Bhushan Senior Advocate of HP High court informs that in Aug, 2005, a Division Bench of Himachal Pradesh High Court quashed the appointment of then Virbadhra Singh led Cong Govt. They appointed a total 12 Chief Parliamentary Secretaries- CPS and Parliamentary Secretaries – PS which included current incumbent Dy Chief Minister Mukesh Agnihotri as well as two newly appointed Ministers Harsh Wardhan Chauhan and Jagat Singh Negi. The court quashed the matter, by terming the appointment of CPS/PS illegal and unconstitutional and pertinent to mention here, that HC ruling has till date not been overturned/ reversed by the Supreme Court. Hence, it very much remains the law of the land (binding precedent) in Himachal Pradesh even today.

However, pro government supporters feel that the current government is banking on the Himachal Pradesh parliamentary secretaries’ appointment act 2006.

Noteworthy is that after the aforementioned HC verdict in 2005, in Jan 2007 i.e. during then Virbhadra Singh led Cong Govt. itself, a law was enacted via the State Assembly titled Himachal Pradesh Parliamentary Secretaries (Appointment, Salaries, Allowances, Powers, Privileges and Amenities) Act, 2006 which however till date has not been adjudicated judicially either by HP High Court or else by the Supreme Court.

Now in light of this act the CPS appointments have been made. Even the previous Congress government in the state in 2012, had also appointed 9 MLAs as CPS.

Interestingly, in its two tenures during this period the BJP never challenge or repealed the Himachal Pradesh Parliamentary Secretaries (Appointment, Salaries, Allowances, Powers, Privileges and Amenities) Act, 2006, and is still open to review.

So now at this hill state it shall be absorbing to note, that whether the ‘Sukhu’ government has taken a legal viewpoint before taking this decision or is it purely political; to even the pitch.


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