Appointment of 21 Parliamentary Secretaries by Govt. of Punjab quashed for bypassing Article 164(1A) of the Constitution

Punjab and Haryana High Court: While deciding upon the challenge to the appointment of 21 Parliamentary Secretaries by the Government of Punjab, the Division Bench of S.S. Saron and Ramendra Jain, JJ., quashed the appointments made by the State Government observing that the appointments had been made in contravention to the provisions of Article 164(1A) of the Constitution and therefore invalid.

The present petitions filed by two public spirited advocates, drew the attention of the Court towards the disputed appointments via the Punjab Parliamentary Secretaries and Chief Parliamentary Secretaries (Terms and Conditions of Appointment) Rules, 2006. The petitioners contended that the total strength of the Ministers including the CM, should not exceed the limit of 15% of the total numbers of MLAs of a State, as mandated by the Constitution (Ninety-first Amendment) Act, 2003. The petitioners contended that these Parliamentary Secretaries have become de-facto ministers and a burden over the State exchequer. On the contrary, the respondents contended that the post of Parliamentary Secretary is not a constitutional post; therefore an appointee to the same cannot be termed as a Minister and they are but mere a channel to connect the Administrative Secretary of the State Govt. and the Minister.

Perusing the rival contentions, the Court observed that the 91st Constitutional Amendment, 2003 was brought in to impose a ceiling on the number of Ministers in a House. The Court also observed that the validity of the appointments will have to be interpreted in the light of the Constitutional Amendment and in a way which does not negate the effect of the Amendment. The Court therefore stated that by appointing the Parliamentary Secretaries, the Govt. tried to ‘achieve indirectly what it could not achieve directly’ as their functions, perks and facilities were like that of any Minister, in other words, they were appointed as Junior Ministers. The Court further stated that the Governor of the State or the legislature has no competence or legislative sanction to frame rules regulating the conditions of appointment and services of Parliamentary Secretaries for their functioning within the House of the State Assembly. Such posts are not part of regular services of the State under the executive. The Court further pointed out that the appointments of Parliamentary Secretaries are contrary to the Constitutional intent of limiting the number of Ministers or the size of the Cabinet, in other words the State Govt. has sought to bypass the Constitutional mandate of the provisions of Article 164 (1A) of the Constitution. [Jagmohan Singh Bhatti v. Union of India, 2016 SCC OnLine P&H 638, decided on 12.08.2016]

 

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