In a setback to the Manohar Lal Khattar government in Haryana, the Punjab and Haryana High Court today set aside the appointment of four BJP MLAs as chief parliamentary secretaries. The judgment of a division bench of the Punjab and Haryana High Court came on a PIL filed by a lawyer, Jagmohan Singh Bhatti, who had filed the litigation shortly after the four were appointed chief parliamentary secretaries in July 2015.
A division bench comprising Justices S S Saron and Darshan Singh, however, gave the four legislators - Shyam Singh Rana, Bakhshish Singh Virk, Seema Trikha and Kamal Gupta - time to file an appeal against the order by keeping it in abeyance for three weeks.
The Haryana government's decision to appoint the four was challenged by Bhatti on the ground that there were no such provisions in the Constitution and the appointments were thus, unconstitutional, and also a burden on the exchequer.
Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar had administered oath to four party legislators as chief parliamentary secretaries on July 23, 2015. Rana is MLA from Radaur in Yamunanagar district, Virk, MLA from Assandh in Karnal district is the lone Sikh face among BJP MLAs, Trikha is a legislator from Badhkal in Faridabad and Gupta is an MLA from Hisar.
Significantly, chief parliamentary secretaries are often appointed on these posts by various state governments to accommodate MLAs since all cannot be made ministers due to a statutory ceiling of 15 per cent on ministerial berths vis-a- vis the respective assembly strength.
Bhatti had contended that the state was spending lakhs of rupees of public money on paying for the salaries, perks and facilities of these secretaries, who were de-facto ministers. However, the Haryana government had countered the claims saying the four chief parliamentary secretaries were not getting the salary or allowances provided to ministers and were also not included in the category of ministers.
The government counsel had argued that they were not appointed as ministers on the advice of the chief minister, nor administered an oath of office and secrecy by the governor.
The state had argued that the four were appointed in public interest to assist the ministers in view of their multifarious duties.
Bhatti told reporters that the Bench observed that the appointments of chief parliamentary secretaries were contrary to the constitutional intent of limiting the number of ministers or the size of the cabinet.
Earlier in August last year, Punjab and Haryana High Court had also quashed the appointment of the chief parliamentary secretaries made by the previous SAD-BJP government in April 2012. In that case too, Bhatti was one of the petitioners.