Court ruling a setback to Virbhadra Govt.

Appointments of Chief Parliamentary Secretaries and Parliamentary Secretaries quashed

Kanwar Yogendra

SHIMLA: Political leaders belonging to the ruling Congress party as well as the Opposition parties are studying the ramifications of the judgment delivered by a Division Bench of the Himachal Pradesh High Court here quashing the appointment of eight Chief Parliamentary Secretaries and four Parliamentary Secretaries appointed by the Virbhadra Singh Government.

The Bench comprising Chief Justice Vinod Kumar Gupta and Justice Deepak Gupta said Himachal Pradesh had failed to show any provision either in the Constitution or in any Act making any provision for the appointment of Parliamentary Secretaries. It said the Chief Minister did not have any source of power to appoint Parliamentary Secretaries or to administer them the oath of secrecy. Since there was no source of power, the appointment of these 12 persons was void and they could not be allowed to continue in their offices.

The writ petition in this regard was filed by a local resident, Desh Bandhu Sood, who runs a non-government organisation (NGO), `Citizen Rights Protection Forum', after a dozen Parliamentary Secretaries were appointed in April this year.

A political move

After the 91st Amendment to the Constitution, the State could have only 12 Ministers. But in a swift political move by the Chief Minister later, 12 MLAs were appointed Chief Parliamentary Secretaries and Parliamentary Secretaries and asked to look after various government departments.

The NGO which had challenged the validity of these appointments was assisted by the BJP's Legal Cell. Former Member of Parliament and national convenor of the party's Legal Cell, Satya Pal Jain, appeared for the petitioner along with the local lawyers. H. S. Mattawal, former Advocate-General of Punjab, appeared for Himachal.

Mr. Jain had said that there was no provision either in the Constitution or in any Act for the appointment of Parliamentary Secretaries and after the 91st Constitutional Amendment the number of Ministers in the State could not exceed 12.Mr. Singh had appointed 12 Parliamentary Secretaries without having any such power to either appoint or administer any oath of secrecy to them. The State Government, on the other hand, had taken a plea that these persons were appointed to reduce the burden of the Ministers in the government and that the appointments were made following executive orders for the government's smooth functioning.

Appointments `immoral'

Addressing a press conference later, Mr. Jain said the appointment of Parliamentary Secretaries was illegal, immoral and unconstitutional. It was a challenge to the basic spirit and nature of the constitutional amendment and everybody was shocked by the Chief Minister's attempt to violate the Constitution.

On behalf of his party, Mr. Jain demanded resignation of the Chief Minister on moral grounds. He said crores of rupees spent on them should be recovered from Parliamentary Secretaries or from the Chief Minister himself. He said the plea taken by the Government that it was training young Parliamentary Secretaries to become Ministers amounted to a mockery of the system. Some of these "young" Parliamentary Secretaries were above 65 and eight of them were in their late 50s, he said. The senior BJP leader said the court judgment was an eye-opener to other Congress-ruled States which were flouting the Constitution. He said there were 20 Parliamentary Secretaries in Punjab and that 30 out of 31 MLAs in Sikkim had been given some charge or adjusted in the Government.

The BJP leader said that there were bleak chances of the State government challenging the decision in the Supreme Court. "We are ready to fight with all force at our command," he said.

Meanwhile, residents celebrated the court decision; some were seen distributing sweets.

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