Friday, November 24, 2023

Three months later, finally Punjab’s Cabinet strength fulfills constitutionally prescribed limit 

Since March 20,  an Advocate consistently wrote objecting to then Bhagwant Mann’s Ministry number being violative of Proviso to Article 164 (1A) of Constitution 

CHANDIGARH – It is truly said that better late than never. Finally, after over three months of assuming office, the strength of Punjab’s Cabinet headed by Chief Minister Bhagwan Mann has fulfilled the constitutional prescribed limit.

With the induction of  five more Ministers on  July 4, 2022  viz. Aman Arora, Dr. Inderbir Singh Nijjar, Fauja Singh, Chetan Singh Jauramajra and Anmol Gagan Mann, the strength of Mann’s Cabinet has risen to 15 including the CM.

It  has been over three months since Punjab Governor, Banwari Lal Purohit on March 19, 2022 on the advice of Chief Minister 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 on March 19 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 then strength of Mann’s  Council of Ministers being eleven ( which later on got further reduced to 10 on May 24), which is  less than  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  was the very first which has been now been followed by another expansion on July 4 and still there can be more such expansion(s) in future as maximum 3 (three) 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  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 might 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 before July 4.

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