The office-of-profit law does not bar Punjab Cabinet Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu from continuing to participate in a popular comedy show on television, but legal experts view it as a violation of the “code of conduct for ministers”.
Sidhu, who has been appointed as Cabinet Minister for Local Government and Tourism and Cultural Affairs, Archives and Museums, has said he would continue to participate in ‘The Kapil Sharma Show’. Senior Supreme Court advocate and Rajya Sabha MP, KTS Tulsi, is of the view, “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.” Tulsi said there was also a stature and dignity of a minister’s office.
Para 2 (c) of the code of conduct for ministers reads, “After taking office, and so long as he remains in office, the Minister shall: refrain from starting, or joining, any business.”
The code of conduct, however, does not specify the course of action for those who are already in a business. Former Lok Sabha MP from Chandigarh and Additional Solicitor General of India, Satya Pal Jain, said since Sidhu was not holding an office-of-profit under the government, he could continue to participate in the television show. But Jain said he would have to go through the code of conduct for ministers.
Article 191 (a) of the Constitution of India (Disqualification for membership) reads, “A person shall be disqualified for being chosen as, and for being, a member of the Legislative Assembly or Legislative Council if he holds any office-of-profit under the Government of India or the Government of any State specified in the First Schedule, other than an office declared by the Legislature of the State by law not to disqualify its holder.”
Former Advocate General of Punjab and Haryana, Harbhagwan Singh, said: “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.” Ashok Aggarwal, who resigned as Punjab’s Advocate General on March 11, is of the view that prima facie Sidhu’s participation in the television show is a business.
“It is the job which he is performing for remuneration. Legally, it is not permissible for a minister. Had he been a sleeping partner in the show, it would not have been a problem.” RTI activist and HC advocate HC Arora pointed out that it could even attract the Prevention of Corruption Act. “With the participation of a Cabinet Minister in the television show, popularity of the show may rise considerably, leading to rise in revenue of channel through increased advertisements. Such conduct of the Cabinet Minister may fall within ‘criminal misconduct’ under section 13 of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988,” Arora said. When contacted, Punjab Advocate General Atul Nanda said he had not yet received any communication from the state government for legal advice on the issue and he would be able to comment only after going through it.