In A major blow to the Mamata government, the Calcutta High Court on Monday struck down as “unconstitutional” a bill passed by the Assembly through which the Trinamool government had appointed 26 parliamentary secretaries to “aid and advise” state ministers.
Terming the West Bengal Parliamentary Secretaries (Appointment, Salaries, Allowances and Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill-2012 as unconstitutional, a division bench comprising Chief Justice Manjula Chellur and Justice Asim Banerjee observed that it was violative of Article 164(1A) of the Constitution.
Article 164 (1A) provides that the strength of a council of ministers headed by the chief minister cannot exceed 15 per cent of the strength of the Assembly (the total number of MLAs). The court also noted the lack of competence of the state Assembly to frame such law.
Petitioner Bikash Bhattacharya said: “My contention was that their appointment was a fraud on the Constitution. I am glad that the division bench accepted our prayer and declared the appointments unconstitutional and illegal… All parliamentary secretaries should now return their salaries and perks that they had received in the last two years.”
At the state Assembly, state Law Minister Chandrima Bhattacharya refused to comment on the order, saying: “We have to go through the details of the order first.” She added that similar posts existed in other states like Haryana and Karnataka. The government reportedly plans to move Supreme Court against the order.
When CPM MLA Rameshwar Dolui raised the issue as point of information during Zero Hour in the House, Congress MLA Manas Bhuniya seconded it. “Parliamentary secretaries were appointed by this government to spy on ministers at the cost of taxpayers’ money,” he claimed.
“It is unfortunate that almost every policy decision of the state government was being challenged at the court of law,” said BJP MLA Shamik Bhattacharya.
After Trinamool Congress came to power in 2011, the state Assembly passed a bill in December 2012 to create posts of parliamentary secretaries to “aid and advise” state ministers.
The bill and subsequent appointments were challenged before the high court, claiming that this was done to bypass the existing law under Article 164(1A) of the Constitution.
It was also claimed that MLAs were given the posts so as to gratify them at the cost of the exchequer.
Caught between the need to beef up the delivery system and the obligation to keep the number of ministers up to 43 — 15 per cent of the total 294 MLAs — Mamata had inducted 13 MLAs as parliamentary secretaries in January 2013.
Another 13 MLAs were inducted as parliamentary secretaries in January 2014, taking up the total strength of such appointees to 26.