Hyderabad: The decision of Punjab sports and culture minister Navjot Singh Sidhu to continue to shoot for his TV show has raised questions over whether a minister while discharging his Constitutional office can be allowed to undertake other activity not directly connected to his duties as minister.
Mr Sidhu has said he wants to earn money for himself, raising another controversy as the code of conduct for ministers expresses itself against such a practice.
This controversy is similar to the one that arose when then AP Chief Minister N.T. Rama Rao decided to act in and direct a film, Brahmarshi Viswamitra, in 1989. The decision was challenged in the AP High Court.
But the court headed by then Chief Justice Yogeswar Dayal held that there was no law restricting a chief minister or a minister from continuing an activity other than that for the post he is holding. While dismissing the petition, the division bench headed by Justice Dayal gave out a lengthy verdict, holding that it was for the enforcing authority of the code of conduct for ministers to decide the nature of action in such instances, and not for the High Court.
The then Attorney-General K. Parasaran, in his capacity as amicus curiae, had held that “the freedom of a Chief Minister to engage himself in any activity cannot be denied... in the interest of general public and to sustain the purity of public life, the holder of such office should not engage himself in any activity which leads directly to personal gain in material terms or which will undermine the dignity of the office”.
Mr Sidhu decision to participate in a TV show to “earn” money is still an area of dispute as it is prohibited by the code of conduct for ministers. Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh who, as per the AP High Court verdict, is the competent authority to take a call on such matters, has sought legal opinion from the state’s Advocate General Atul Nanda. Mr Nanda has apparently advised Mr Sidhu against continuing his programme.
Mr Sidhu has justified his TV stint saying he gets an income that gives him the strength to take on corrupt politicians. “For TV, I will leave Chandigarh at 3pm, reach Mumbai at 5pm, shoot all night and take a 3am flight and be here at 5am when no one has even woken up and will be at work by 7 am,” he was quoted as saying.
Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi who, when asked about the Sidhu controversy, said there was no provision in the Constitution to disqualify an MLA or minister if he engaged in a private business, but added that there was a “moral and ethical responsibility” which asks a public servant to disassociate from commercial jobs.
In the NTR case, the Bench headed by Justice Dayal held: “This court has no power to enquire into the desirability or otherwise of the respondent’s (N.T. Rama Rao) conduct, nor has it power to restrain him from engaging himself in the said activity. Much less can it declare him to be disqualified from holding the office of Chief Minister on the said ground.”
The court noted that the petitioners were not questioning any particular executive action, but questioning his personal conduct. “There is no decision of any court in this country, or for that matter, in England, where the courts have undertaken to regulate the personal conduct of a minister, or have sought to enforce ethical rules of personal behaviour,” the court said.
The court held, “The fact that a minister has been held to be a public servant within the meaning of Section 51 of the Indian Penal Code, does not mean that he is a public servant for all purposes. A minister cannot be equated to a public servant. The concept of master and servant has no application to the office of a minister. The rules of conduct applicable to civil servants, requiring them to place all their time at the disposal of the government are not applicable to ministers.” It further said, “The office of a minister is a political office. His oath of office obligates him to discharge duties of a minister conscientiously. The oath of office, however, does not say that he shall devote all his time to his official duties. It is a matter left to his good sense and his conscience. The fact that court may not regulate their personal conduct is beside the point.
“A person is not deprived of his Rights guaranteed by Part III of the Constitution on account of his accepting the office of minister. At the same time, the nature of the office and the power it carries, imply certain restrictions on those fundamental rights to the extent they are called for to ensure an effective discharge of functions of the office. For instance, no minister may carry on any profession, or business, actively, for gain, while in office. Such activity would provide occasion for open abuse. The code of conduct evolved by the Union government — and the state government — does contain salutary restrictions; but, since the code cannot be treated as law within the meaning of Clauses (2) to (6) of Article 19, the restrictions cannot be enforced by court,” Justice Dayal said.
The code of conduct is of great significance and sanctity, though it is not statutory. “It fills a great void. The code is evolved with an eye upon good government and clean administration, not only in action but also in appearance. It is binding upon all ministers. It prescribes the authority who shall ensure observance thereof. The procedure to be followed by him and the action to be taken thereon is also left to him. Similar rules have also been evolved in the United Kingdom. However, the petitioners cannot seek to enforce the code through the Court,” the court ruled....