KOLKATA: The West Bengal’s TMC Government suffered a huge setback on Monday when the Calcutta High Court declared as unconstitutional a controversial state law passed to appoint parliamentary secretaries to “aid and advise” state ministers.
A Division Bench of Chief Justice Manjula Chellur and Justice Ashim Banerjee, while hearing a PIL petition moved by CPM leader Bikash Bhattacharya, described as “unconstitutional and void” the West Bengal Parliamentary Secretaries (Appointment, Salaries, Allowances and Miscellaneous Provisions) Act.
According to Article 164 (1) a of the Constitution, the number of the council of ministers cannot exceed more than 15 percent of the total strength of a state Assembly. Welcoming the High Court decision, Opposition parties alleged that Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had tried to circumvent the Constitution to provide illegal benefits to her party MLAs.
“The state government has no right to create such posts of parliamentary secretaries which were on a par with the status of MoS. The quota of 15 percent of the strength of our Assembly, which is 294, was already full. Such posts were illegally created to provide benefits to some TMC MLAs and the state government should now recover the money paid to them as salaries and perks,” Bhattacharya said.
After the law came into effect in 2013, Mamata appointed 26 parliamentary secretaries, assigning them to various government departments. Twenty-three of them drew salaries of MoS and were provided with offices and vehicles fitted with red beacons.
The government is likely to move the Supreme Court against the High Court’s ruling soon.
Leader of the Opposition Surjyakanta Mishra(CPM) said: “We had been stating from the beginning that the law was illegal and smacked of nepotism. To satisfy her party legislators whom she could not make ministers, Mamata created such posts. She should now ensure they return the funds used to pay their salaries and their vehicles and shut down their offices.” And veteran Congress MLA Manas Bhuniya said the parliamentary secretaries were breathing down the neck of Cabinet ministers and interfering in their functioning. “This is a relief for them. People’s money was being wasted,” he added.
Accusing the government of functioning in a “nawabi” (feudal) style, the BJP’s Shamik Bhattacharya said government decisions being challenged or quashed by courts would lead to “a serious Constitutional crisis”.
In Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, Delhi, Maharashtra, Goa and Assam, where such laws were passed or attempts made to appoint parliamentary secretaries, respective High Courts had challenged the government moves.
Justice for the Miffed
█ As per the West Bengal Parliamentary Secretaries Act, 26 TMC MLAs were appointed as parl secretaries by the West Bengal’s TMC Government
█ Of them, 23 drew salaries on a par with MoS, had official vehicles and offices
█ Article 164 (1) of the Constitution states the total number of ministers cannot exceed 15 percent of the total number of Members of the Legislative Assembly
█ 15 percent of the strength of Bengal Assembly, which is 294, was already full