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Good riddance

Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  28 July 2017 12:00 AM GMT

A device to bypass a Central law on limiting ministry size — created by the erstwhile Tarun Gogoi-led Congress government in Assam — has now been declared ‘unconstitutiol’ by the Supreme Court. med the Assam Parliamentary Secretaries (Appointment, Salaries, Allowances and Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 2004, this device had helped foist upon the people ‘parliamentary secretaries’. The idea was primarily to accommodate disgruntled but influential MLAs who could not be inducted into the ministry. This was because on New Year’s Day in 2004, Parliament had passed the Constitution 91st Amendment Bill, 2003 which made modifications to articles 75 and 164 of the Constitution. Henceforth through Article 164 (1A), the size of the council of ministers in a State was limited to 15 percent of the total strength of the Assembly. At that time, the Tarun Gogoi-led ministry in Assam had 36 members, which under the amended Central law had to be pruned down to 19. So what did the Gogoi regime do? It went right ahead to promulgate an ordince in November that year — the Assam Parliamentary Secretaries (Appointment, Salaries, Allowances and Miscellaneous Provisions) Ordince, 2004 — and on December 29, 2004, the Act was passed in the Assembly. And since then until May 2016, the people of Assam saw a succession of MLAs periodically reshuffled like a deck of cards as parliamentary secretaries. Paid salaries and enjoying sundry perks with taxpayers’ money, what developmental work they did for the State as junior ministers is anybody’s guess. Mercifully, we have been spared this burden by the Sarbanda Sonowal-led dispensation since it took over reins in Dispur last year. And now, this travesty of a State law — intended to defeat Parliament’s initiative to end jumbo-sized ministries at the Centre and States — has been junked by the apex court. This development has come about thanks to late Bimalangshu Roy, who represented Silchar as MLA, challenging the constitutiol validity of the parliamentary secretaries Act in 2005 at Gauhati High Court. Transferred to the Supreme Court the next year, the case went through hearings even as other States emulated Assam with appointment of parliamentary secretaries. The latest is galand with Chief Minister TR Zeliang inducting as many as 26 parliamentary secretaries and 9 advisors, to add to the 12 in his council of ministers including himself. This makes a grand total of 47 legislators enjoying the status of ministers, parliamentary secretaries and advisors — the same number that voted for Zeliang in the floor test in galand Assembly recently. Zeliang has therefore done all he can to keep his flock happy, but now the Supreme Court has made it clear that States have no power to create the post of parliamentary secretaries. On Wednesday, the SC bench held that “to read the authority to create new offices by legislation would be a wholly irratiol way” of construing the scope of Article 194(3) and Entry 39 of List II of 7th Schedule. The Assam Legislative Assembly therefore ‘lacked the competence’ to create the post of parliamentary secretaries under these provisions of the Constitution, which already contains elaborate and explicit arrangements with respect to the Legislature and various offices and matters connected with it. In the light of this ruling, it is therefore good riddance of a useless post that served as a tool for political expediency while burdening the exchequer. Thanks to the apex court, another blow has been struck for the cause of good governce.

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