CHANDIGARH: In what is being seen as an attempt to avoid any legal problem over the appointment of parliamentary secretaries, the Punjab government has decided to appoint MLAs who lost out on a cabinet berth as Legislative Assistants to Ministers. Chief Minister Amarinder Singh said that with 42 departments, it was not possible for ministers to handle the work alone. These Legislative Assistants would help the ministers with their departmental responsibilities.
He said he would inform the Speaker and take the approval of the Assembly. The CM said the ministers and party MLAs could continue with their businesses along with their official work, but favouritism, corruption or other illegal activities would not be tolerated. In 2016, the Punjab and Haryana High Court had set aside the appointment of 24 Chief Parliamentary Secretaries appointed by the then Akali Dal-BJP Government, after petitioners questioned the legal sanctity of such a post.
Many state governments appoint parliamentary secretaries in order to reward MLAs who could not be accommodated in the ministry. As per the Constitution, the number of ministers should not exceed 15 per cent of the total strength of the legislative assembly. In Punjab, there can be only 18 cabinet ministers, including the Chief Minister, as the state has 117 assembly seats. The ruling Congress has 77 MLAs. The CM said he would be meeting Congress president Rahul Gandhi on April 19 in New Delhi, and that the sanctioned posts would be filled up in the next round of expansion.
All party MLAs would be accommodated either as ministers or Legislative Assistants or as chairmen of Boards and Corporations, he said. He would also brief Gandhi on what his government had achieved in the past year. But the move to appoint Legislative Assistants to Ministers has not gone down well with the Opp osition. AAP leader Sukhpal Singh Khaira said appointing MLAs as Legislative Assistants with independent portfolios and the powers of ministers was a mockery of the Constitution.
Pledging to move the High Court against this “illegitimate step,” he said: “These new unconstitutional appointments are being made on the lines of Parliamentary Secretaries which were quashed by the High Court. Now this is the new modus operandi of Capt Amarinder Singh to bypass the constitution and pacify agitating Congress MLAs at the cost of the public exchequer. Developed countries like the US do appoint Legislative Assistants, but they’re paid employees to assist elected Senators and Congressmen.”