In a setback of sorts to Punjab Culture minister Navjot Singh Sidhu, the Punjab High Court today rapped the cricketer-turned politician for his insistence on continuing with a popular television comedy show.
The court was hearing a PIL filed by senior lawyer HC Arora seeking cancellation of the permission granted by the Congress-led government in Punjab to Sidhu to particilate as a celebrity judge in 'The Kapil Sharma Show'.
Asking Sidhu not to participate in the comedy show where comments could be damaging to the interest of his position as a minister, the High Court said that the issue wasn’t just about the legality but also about propriety and morality.
The petition questions whether a minister can perform in a comedy show while occupying a constitutional post and whether the financial gains he made through his appearances did not amount to illegality. The petition further questions that if it was alright for a minister to do so, why do rules bar a government servant from undertaking any other work.
The court listed the petition and posted it for hearing on May 11.
In a reprimand to Sidhu for refusing to follow rules, the HC suggested that his participation on the show may amount to conflict of interest. When informed by Punjab Advocate Journal Atul Nanda that Sidhu’s participation on the show did not amount to any conflict of interest or flouting of rules, the court said the issue wasn’t just about the legality but also of propriety and morality.
“If a minister does not follow rules, who will?” the court asked.
The court also sought to remind Sidhu that similar rules were applicable to all star MPs and ministers as well. The HC further said that there is a laid down code of conduct and 1952 law which states that after taking office or as long as he is in office, an official/MP will refrain from joining or holding another office of profit or a private business.
Sidhu has been adamant all along over his continuing with the show, triggering a political row. Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, however, has maintained that he had no issues if the minister continues with his TV stint as long as it was legally permissible. In his legal opinion to the state government sought by the CM, state Advocate General Atul Nanda had said that Sidhu could continue as a celebrity-judge on the popular TV comedy show and there is no conflict of interest in it.
Sidhu has insisted all along that his TV shows will not interfere with his Cabinet responsibilities.
"I have no liquor, sand mining or transport business like former deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal. I earn a living through TV shows and I will be in Chandigarh from Monday to Thursday and in Amritsar from Friday to Sunday. What I do at night should not be anyone's concern," he said earlier.
"I will take first flight back to Punjab after TV shoots in Mumbai," he had said soon after taking oath as minister.
What legal experts said
However, the country’s top legal experts had differed with the view citing the code of conduct that the HC too cited today.
"Code of Conduct for union as well as state ministers is very clear. You cannot take any money or earn income from any other source, even if it is for charitable purpose," senior Supreme Court advocate and Rajya Sabha MP KTS Tulsi had told The Indian Express.
Additional Solicitor General of India Satya Pal Jain was also of a similar view. Sidhu does not hold an office-of-profit under the government but he would have to go through the code of conduct for ministers, he said.
Former Advocate General of Punjab and Haryana, Harbhagwan Singh, too said the main question is of morality.
“Legally, there is no bar as it would not come under office-of-profit. But the main question is of morality. On the issue of code of conduct for ministers, the CM can advise Sidhu not to participate in television show, if he feels so,” he said.
What the "code of conduct for ministers" says
After taking office, and so long as he remains in office, the minister has to furnish annually by August 31 to PM or CM, as the case may be, a declaration regarding his assets and liabilities for the previous financial year; refrain from buying from or selling to, the government any immovable property except where such property is compulsorily acquired by the government in usual course; refrain from starting, or joining, any business; ensure that the members of his family do not start, or participate in, business concerns, engaged in supplying goods or services to that Government (excepting in the usual course of trade or business and at standard or market rates) or dependent primarily on grant of licenses, permits, quotas, leases, etc., from that Government; and report the matter to the Prime Minister, or the Chief Minister as the case may be, if any member of his family sets up, or joins in the conduct and management of, any other business.
No minister should personally, or through a member of his family, accept contribution for any purpose, whether political, charitable or otherwise. If any purse or cheque intended for a registered society, or a charitable body, or an institution recognised by a public authority, or a political party is presented to him, he should pass it on as soon as possible to the organisation for which it is intended.