Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu on Sunday, January 9, 2023, expanded his Cabinet by inducting seven MLAs as ministers, besides six legislators were appointed as Chief Parliamentary Secretaries (CPS).
The ministers took the oath of office and secrecy at a swearing-in ceremony held in Shimla. The oath was administrated by Himachal Pradesh Governor Rajendra Vishwanath Arlekar at the Raj Bhawan.
The ministers who have found a place in the cabinet include – Dhani Ram Shandil (Solan), Chander Kumar (Kangra), Harshwardhan Chauhan (Sirmour), Jagat Singh Negi (Kinnaur), Rohit Thakur (Shimla), Anirudh Singh (Shimla), and Vikramaditya Singh (Shimla), son of former Chief Minister late Virbhadra Singh.
In the new Cabinet, as many as three ministers have been inducted from Shimla district even though Kuldeep Singh Rathore, the former party state president, who was instrumental in uniting the party under his tenure was not included in the ministry. Also, from Kangra, which is often regarded as the most politically significant district in the State, and where the Congress has won 10 seats out of 15, only one legislator has made it to the Cabinet.
Ahead of the Cabinet expansion, the Chief Minister also announced the names of six MLAs as Chief Parliamentary Secretaries (CPS), in an apparent bid to ‘accommodate’ the legislators in the government, given the cap on the number of ministers in the Cabinet. There can be a maximum of 12 ministers in Himachal Pradesh, including the Chief Minister. The CPS, who were administrated the oath of office by the Chief Minister include - Sundar Thakur, Ram Kumar, Ashish Butail, Kishori Lal, Mohan Lal Brakta, and Sanjay Awasthi.
Interestingly, the Chief Minister had given a list of ten legislators to the party’s ‘high command’ to be inducted as ministers. However, only seven ministers were inducted into the Cabinet. Party insiders said that the ‘party high command’ had reservations over finalising all the ten names at one go. After the first expansion, the cabinet could be expanded at a later stage, keeping in mind the 2024 parliamentary election.
It was the first cabinet expansion of the Congress government, which came into power in December 2022, after bagging 40 seats in the 68-member Himachal Pradesh Assembly. On December 11, Mr. Sukhu took oath as the Chief Minister of the State and Mukesh Agnihotri as Deputy Chief Minister, and since then the cabinet expansion is awaited.
Meanwhile, the appointment of Chief Parliamentary Secretaries has yet again ignited the debate over the appointments. Hemant Kumar, a practicing lawyer, pointed out that in the year 2005, a division bench of Himachal Pradesh High Court had quashed the appointment of 12 Chief Parliamentary Secretaries, appointed by the then Congress government, by terming their appointment as illegal and unconstitutional. However, thereafter in the year 2007, the Himachal Pradesh Assembly enacted the Parliamentary Secretaries Appointment Act, 2006, which, hitherto has not been adjudicated judicially. Hence CPS are being appointed in the State under the Parliamentary Secretaries Appointment Act, he said.