The BJP government in the hilly state of Himachal Pradesh has passed a bill in the state assembly, which gives cabinet ranks and equal facilities to two newly created posts of Chief Whip and Deputy Chief Whip in the state. This has been done at a time when the state needs to take strict austerity measures to reduce deficits and avoid a debt crisis. Himachal is facing a huge debt of 50,000 crore. Not only this, the state is facing the highest ever graph of unemployment and the numbers according to government records have gone up to 8,34,714.
The Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur succumbed to internal pressure within the party and agreed to create the two posts, assigning them the ranks and facilities equal to that of cabinet ministers. The state has an assembly of 68 members and according to law there can only by 12 ministers, including the chief minister. All these ministerial berths were filled after the new government took oath in December last year. As there was no scope of inducting more ministers, it is said there was pressure within the BJP to at least adjust two of the senior legislators and give them ‘respectful’ ranks.
The state Assembly in the Budget session passed the Bill which was brought in the house by the ruling BJP government amid strong opposition from the Congress. Chief Minister Jai Ram after the passage of the bill clarified that Himachal is not the only state in the country which has given such kind of rank and facilities to the two posts. According to him, many other states have created such posts with similar privileges. The Congress Legislative Party (CLP) leader Mukesh Agnihotri, while talking to Tehelka said that his party strongly opposed the BJP government move. ‘’They are trying to save them from the office of profit rule by creating these unnecessary posts, which is just a burden on the poor people of the state,” he added.
On the other hand, Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur defended his government decision and said that the opposition Congress is arguing on baseless facts. ‘’Truth is that states like Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Delhi, Telangana, Tripura, Mizoram and Rajasthan already have this bill and we too have followed that,” he added.
But here, the question arises that in such circumstances where does the status of law which restricts a state making more than 12 ministers stand? The Chief Minister says that the previous Congress government had appointed 9 Chief Parliamentary Secretaries (CPSs) which was a huge burden on the state exchequer. “We are not going to appoint CPS,” he added.
The lone CPM legislator in the state Assembly Rakesh Singha also opposed the BJP government decision. “They didn’t have the money even to pay the interest of huge debt on the state. Moreover, this is a mockery of the law, which restricts a state to have only 12 ministers,” he added. However, the CM clarified that the two posts have been created for better coordination in the assembly and this does not violate any rule regarding the restriction on the number of ministers.
Interestingly, in another BJP ruling state, Madhya Pradesh, the BJP government gave cabinet rank to five sadhus (religious leaders). However, on April 10, the state High Court issued a notice to Madhya Pradesh government over granting minister of state (MoS) status to these five religious leaders asking the government to file a reply.
What does the law say?
The Constitution (91st Amendment) Act, 2003, limits the size of all ministries in India, came into force on July 7, 2004. This Act stipulates that the strength of the council of ministers should not exceed 15 percent of the total number of members in the Lok Sabha (in case of the central government) or the relevant state assembly.
An exception has been made only for smaller states such as Sikkim, Mizoram and Goa where the strength of the assembly is 40 or less. There, the state government can have a maximum of 12 ministers.
But all the states who have already completed the prescribed quota of ministers, are adjusting ruling party legislators out of ministry but with cabinet/MoS status with all salaries and all other facilities to the ministers.
The unemployment status
According to the state government records, Himachal till the December 2017 had 8,34,714 registered unemployed in the state. The numbers of those unemployed, who are not enrolled in the state government department, are separate. This is the highest ever number of the unemployed in the state. “The growing number of unemployed in the state is a matter of serious concern. In such a situation, the governments must not spend money just to fulfil its political aspirations,” said BD Sharma, eminent political observer and former Director of Information in the state.
According to a survey conducted by the labour bureau, as many as 40.8% of the total youth in the state are unemployed, most of them having graduate or postgraduate and other professional degrees in their kitty. The survey reveals that every year there is an increase of 10% in unemployment in the state. Most of the unemployed are in Kangra district, which has 1,90,783 unemployed youth, while Mandi has 1,51,137, Shimla 81,070, Hamirpur 66,994, Una 62,755, Sirmaur 58,350, Chamba 6,453, Bilaspur 53,258, Kullu 46,111 and the tribal districts of Kinnaur 9,445 and Lahul Spiti have the lowest number 4,681.
The previous Congress regime which had 9 CPSs, claims that it provided jobs to as many as 1.49 lakh youth in five years. “We focused on this front seriously as the state didn’t have much scope in public sector,” said Mukesh Agnihotri, CLP leader. He admits that the huge number of unemployed youth in the state is a matter of concern and the government needs to adjust more number of youth in the industries.