Parliamentary secy issue: Let SC decide

At a fundamental level, there is no clarity whether it is politically corrupt to appoint parliamentary secretaries.

The possible disqualification of 20 MLAs of the Aam Aadmi Party from the Delhi Assembly — for holding an “office of profit” as parliamentary secretaries, which appointment was struck down as illegal by the Delhi High Court in September 2015, just six months after their appointment — will not bring down the government of Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, considering that in February 2015, the AAP had won a crushing 67 seats in a legislature of 70, with the BJP winning a measly three and the Congress drawing a blank. However, besides recommending the disqualification of these MLAs to the President on Friday, the Election Commission is also looking at the case of another set of AAP MLAs for holding an office of profit as members of Rogi Samitis (patients’ committees) in government hospitals, exclusively reported by this newspaper.

If this case also goes against the AAP MLAs, the government would be perilously close to skimming the halfway mark. And it will fall below that level if MLAs expelled by the party are taken into account. That would make fresh election for the Delhi Assembly inevitable a year or so ahead of schedule. Of course, there is an office of profit law in respect of legislators, and there ought to be. The question, however, is whether a parliamentary secretary should be brought within its purview. Parliamentary secretaries and under-secretaries are common in Britain. They have not been unknown in India either, right from the Nehru era. In the specific case of Delhi, former CM Sheila Dikshit (Congress) and before her Sahib Singh Verma (BJP) had parliamentary secretaries, but this did not draw attention.

Critics of Mr Kejriwal say that he appointed as many as 21 MLAs as parliamentary secretaries (one of them subsequently resigned to contest the Assembly election in Punjab) in order to win them over so that they may never turn rebel on not being made ministers. At the political level, this may well have been the case, and in that case it testifies to Mr Kejriwal being as cynical a political animal as any other CM. But the wider issue is that, unlike for ministers, there appears to be no rule which prohibits the appointment of more than a specified number of parliamentary secretaries. That aside, issue can be taken with the decision of the Election Commission to disqualify the AAP MLAs on the ground that the poll body — a quasi-judicial authority — did not hold a hearing on the merit of the case. Other than Delhi, the parliamentary secretary issue has been taken to the high court in respect of West Bengal, Karnataka, Rajasthan, Odisha, Telangana, several states of the Northeast, Goa and Punjab. At a fundamental level, there is no clarity whether it is politically corrupt to appoint parliamentary secretaries. This is a fit matter to be taken up by a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court.

( Source : Deccan Chronicle. )
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