HC Advocate’s objection to Bhagwant Mann’s Ministry number being violative of Proviso to Article 164 (1A) of Constitution yet to be redressed
CHANDIGARH – IT has been over three months since Punjab Governor, Banwari Lal Purohit on March 19, 2022 on the advice of Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann, appointed and administered the Oath of Office & Secrecy to Harpal Singh Cheema, Dr. Baljit Kaur, Harbhajan Singh, Dr. Vijay Singla, Lal Chand, Gurmeet Singh Meet Hayer, Kuldeep Singh Dhaliwal, Laljit Singh Bhullar, Bram Shanker and Harjot Singh Bains (total 10) as Cabinet Ministers of Punjab. Mann however himself took Oath as CM three days earlier on March 16, 2022. Hence the strength of Mann’s Cabinet including himself reached 11 which was however reduced to 10 on May 24 after Dr. Vijay Singla was dropped from the Cabinet on alleged corruption charges.
Meanwhile, on March 20, 2022 itself an Advocate at Punjab and Haryana High Court, Hemant Kumar, wrote to President of India, Prime Minister, Union Home Minister along with Punjab Governor, CM Mann and State Chief Secretary objecting to strength of Mann’s Council of Ministers being eleven ( currently 10 since May 24), which is less than the twelve, as mandated/prescribed in First Proviso to Article 164 (1A) of Constitution of India.
It is also noteworthy to mention here that the aforementioned First Proviso to Article 164 (IA) uses the word “shall” and not “may” hence it is nothing but compulsory/mandatory that the total strength of Council of Ministers in every State (including Punjab) at any given point of time shall (should) not be less than twelve.
Also, till date there has been no authoritative judicial pronouncement (read any Reportable Judgment which acts as a binding precedent) by any Constitutional Court in India i.e. either by Hon’ble Supreme Court of India or else any High Court(s) in India including the jurisdictional Hon’ble Punjab & Haryana High Court on this very issue i.e. if total strength of Council of Ministers in a State in India can be less than 12 at any given point of time.
Further, Hemant asserts that notwithstanding the fact that the March 19 expansion of Punjab’s Council of Ministers on 19 March was the very first and there can be more such expansion(s) in future as maximum 7 (seven) more Cabinet Ministers/Ministers of State can be appointed in Punjab’s Council of Ministers in due course which is the upper ceiling/limit in case of State of Punjab since the total number of members of Legislative Assembly of Punjab being 117 and hence maximum number of Ministers in Punjab’s Council of Ministers can be 15% of 117 i.e. 17.55 or 18 (by rounding off) as per Article 164 (1A) of Constitution of India.
However, the significant legal (read constitutional) point is that the mandate/prescription of minimum number of Ministers in State’s Council of Ministers i.e. 12 as per First Proviso to Article 164 (IA) of Constitution of India is applicable from ab-initio (from the very beginning) of constitution/formation of Council of Ministers and it doesn’t means by any stretch of imagination that the strength of State’s Council of Ministers can be less than 12 initially and later on it can expanded to 12 or more (as maximum permissible i.e. upto 15% of strength of concerned State Legislative Assembly) in due course.
Hence, Hemant points out that until and unless the strength of Punjab’s current Council of Ministers is raised from current strength of 10 to at least 12, it nevertheless lacks a sort of legal (read constitutional ) sanctity in terms of First Proviso to Article 164(IA) of Constitution of India.
As a consequence thereof, there would be serious question marks over the decisions taken by such Council of Ministers /Cabinet with less than 12 Ministers including the Chief Minister as in case of Punjab currently.
Be that as it may, although it has been three months since the Advocate wrote to all above senior functionaries in this regard, he is yet to get any sort of response or reply from anyone hitherto. However, he only got an email from the Office of Principal Secretary to CM from which it came to light that the matter has been forwarded to Chief Secretary of Punjab along with Secretary(PA- Political Affairs) and Superintendent (FUP) in CM Office, Punjab.
Pertinent that last month in May when Dr. Manik Saha, who was sworn in as new Tripura Chief Minister on May 15, he inducted 11 Ministers in his Council of Ministers the very next day of taking Oath and assuming Office.
Earlier on April 16, N. Biren Singh, Chief Minister (CM) of Manipur inducted 6 more Ministers in his Cabinet taking the Ministry’s strength to 12. On March 21, when Biren took the Oath of Office & Secrecy as CM, only 5 Ministers were sworn in along with him.
Similarly on April 9, Goa Chief Minister Pramod Sawant expanded his Cabinet by including three more Ministers in his Council of Ministers, raising its strength to 12. On March 28, Sawant took Oath as CM along with 8 other Ministers.
On March 25, when Yogi Adityanath took Oath as CM of Uttar Pradesh, 52 other Ministers got sworn in along with him, hence strength of his current Council of Ministers is well above 12, the minimum number as is required constitutionally.