Capt Amarinder Singh is squarely in the saddle. But the massive win in Punjab has brought its own kind burden. Clearly not every one of the 77 legislators in a house of 117 that occupy the treasury benches can be a minister. There is a constitutional provision that allows a total of only 18 ministers and the two more MLAs can be accommodated as a speaker and a deputy speaker. But the rest given the nature of politics cannot sit back and cool their heels. Pressures are already at work.
This has forced the chief minister to dangle a carrot outside his residence all the time. When he appointed nine ministers including two women as ministers of state, he immediately held out that proverbial carrot and announced an expansion in June along with bringing a law to add chief parliamentary secretaries. As a seasoned politician, Capt Amarinder Singh is aware that the judiciary has already struck down this provision as unconstitutional. The fate could be no better in the Supreme Court where a case is pending. The same could be the fate of his efforts, but then politics tells him that he could at least demonstrate to his colleagues that he tried his best.
The previous SAD-BJP government had appointed 23 CPSes without passing any law in the state assembly. The Congress wants to ensure that it keeps the appointments at a par with the 15% ceiling and the number of CPSes to be appointed restricted to the figure of 18 under the proposed state legislation.
The high court had quashed all the CPS appointments made by the previous Parkash Singh Badal government on August 12, 2016, along with six others made later. The state government had moved the Supreme Court but it had refused to stay the high court order.
Congress leaders assert, “The Punjab and Haryana High Court had stuck down the appointments in Punjab, holding that there was no law to mandate it. Once the assembly ratifies a law, the appointments should not face any legal hurdle.” But the lawyer who fought does not buy the argument. H C Arora rebuts and asserts: “There can’t be anybody else between the minister and administrative secretary of the department, through whom files can be routed. If a CPS comes in between, the oath of secrecy by minister goes. The HC had also pointed out that they were acting like junior ministers, which is against the law”. Arora vows to challenge the government move and not let go the battle.
Strangely the Akali stalwart and five times Punjab chief minister of Punjab, Parkash Singh Badal who had tried this way is now rendering unsolicited advice to his successor and to not bring any such law. Akalis would oppose it although it matters little. The main opposition party, the Aam Aadmi Party that tried it in Delhi unsuccessfully to have as many as 27 CPS is expected to oppose this move in Punjab. Strange are the ways of our rulers.
But Amarinder has much bigger task at hand. To keep some cohesion in the working of his government and humour those who could be future trouble makers. Aruna Chaudhary, a minister of state with independent charge who has a meatier department of education has already courted a controversy. Aruna’s husband, Ashok Chaudhary, is a retired bureaucrat and Congress leader was seen by the media perusing department files sitting next to his wife. This left a bad taste and the chief minister was obliged to politely nudge the minister to be careful. Similarly, S. S Channi, state congress president and now a minister is not happy with his portfolios.
But toughest task and the governor underlined this in his first address to the 15th state assembly is to “restore the financial position of the state and to once again put it on a high-growth trajectory”. Punjab is a financially-collapsed economy with an abysmally-high revenue deficit of Rs 13,484 crore and the fiscal deficit of Rs 26,801 crore. Governor Badnore admitted , “Punjab’s financial health has been under stress for some time on account of ballooning salaries and wage bills of employees, mounting debt burden, slow growth of revenue receipts as compared to revenue expenditure and loss-making public sector units “.
The government promised: “The state has seen deterioration in quality of governance due to increased political interference of halqa in-charges, forcible occupation of government and private businesses, both in transport and mining. The claims of governance reforms have also not been fully borne out by the plight of the common man. It will end cartelisation of cable TV networks by bringing a cable authority act”.
He also spoke of inheriting Rs 31,000 crore term loan due to previous government accepting it as gap in cash credit limit for foodgrain procurement, “huge borrowings” for atta-dal scheme, urban and rural missions and pending pensions, scholarships and power subsidy bills. There shall be a white paper on development, governance reforms and financial position of state to apprise the common man of what we have inherited.
Badnore bemoaned, “During the last five years the projections/targets of the state excise and VAT revenue were never achieved. During the last 10 years, the total debt of the state had increased from Rs 48,344 crore to Rs 1,82,537 crore at the end of 2016-2017.
The Congress government has promised to ease the debt of farmers who are forced to commit suicide. It shall enact a legislation to prohibit ‘kurki’ and sale of farmers’ lands by lending agencies. It shall continue to provide free power to farmers. It will establish an Agriculture Board for contract farming. The state will take all administrative and legal measures to defend the water rights of the state.
Spelling strict action against drug dealers, the government will pass the Confiscation of Drug Dealers Property Act besides setting up a special task force which will report directly to the chief minister.
The government will ensure 30 per cent reservation for SCs in allotment of houses, and residential and commercial plots. The government will also provide 30 per cent reservation to women in government jobs. People would be watching keenly how these promises get translated.