Kanwar Sandhu & Ruchika M Khanna/TNS
Chandigarh, October 13
Punjab has at least four Advisers, at least three of them enjoying Cabinet rank, and four Media Advisers, two of them enjoying the status of Minister of State and two that of Chief Parliamentary Secretary (see box).
Said HC Arora, a lawyer of the Punjab & Haryana High Court and civil society activist, "The appointment of advisers clearly circumvents the recommendations of the Constitutional Review Committee of the Government of India on limiting the size of the Council of Ministers and cutting down on expenditure."
Rough estimates, based on the terms and conditions of appointment of each of these Advisers, reveal that the government spends approximately Rs 21 lakh per annum on each of them (see box). This does not include the salary of staff attached with them or the expenses incurred on the official car allotted to them.
It is common knowledge that the battery of advisers move around in official vehicles with beacons atop them and with escort vehicles in tow. "How can the advisers be given the status of a minister without being MLAs? This is nothing but a crude joke on the electoral system," said Bir Devinder Singh, former Deputy Speaker of Punjab Vidhan Sabha.
Bir Devinder recalled how Chief Ministers like Darbara Singh did not even have a single Political Secretary, leave alone any adviser. Other than a Principal Secretary and a Deputy PS (both civil servants), he only had only an Officer On Special Duty (OSD) to coordinate with MLAs.
Old timers recall that when Giani Zail Singh was the Chief Minister, he had one Political Secretary for liaison work with political leaders. The system of providing ministerial status and perks to advisers started with Captain Amarinder Singh, who had, among others, a high profile media adviser in BIS Chahal.
Constitutionally, advisers are appointed only during imposition of President's Rule to "aid and advise" the Chief Minister and when there is no council of ministers in the state. Said KTS Tulsi, former Vice Chairman of the Law Commission, "Appointment of advisers in this manner by the Punjab Government is an abuse of power and a breach of democratic norms, besides being an unwarranted strain on the public exchequer."
Even some BJP leaders on condition of anonymity admit that providing ministerial status to the advisers is unconstitutional.
"Under the Constitution, only the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Board is supposed to enjoy that status," said one of them.
The issue even figured at a Cabinet meeting recently with Food and Supplies Minister Adesh Pratap Kairon raising objections to the appointment of Media Advisers and their demand that they be given an additional honorarium as they were not entitled to constituency allowance as in the case of Ministers of State.
What is irking the officers is that some of the advisers have been summoning official files and even addressing meetings. "Since they are not to sworn to secrecy, as the ministers are, this is illegal," said a senior officer, who did not want to be identified.
Under the law, the government can have 15 per cent of the elected representatives as Ministers. This which means that Punjab, with 117 members in the assembly, can have 18 ministers. Though two posts of Minister are lying vacant (after Bibi Jagir Kaur and Tota Singh resigned last year), the government has chosen to appoint Maheshinder Singh Grewal, who did not contest the 2012 elections, and Tikshan Sud, BJP leader who lost the 2012 elections, as Political Advisers. The two often issue political statements for the government.
As of now, the Punjab Government has two Political Advisers, Maheshinder Singh Grewal and Tikshan Sud and one Industrial Adviser, Kamal Oswal, each awarded the rank of Cabinet Minister. Businessman Kamal Oswal, appointed as Industrial Adviser, has refused to accept any government perks.
In addition, Lt Gen BS Dhaliwal (retd), is the Technical Adviser. Even during the previous tenure of the SAD-BJP Government, there were more than half a dozen advisers.
Each of them is entitled to Rs 30,000 honorarium, Rs 2 lakh per annum traveling allowance, Rs 1,000 daily allowance, Rs 50,000 per month house rent (Rs 30,000 per month in case the house is in other cities); Rs 10,000 per month telephone allowance, a staff car costing up to Rs 7 lakh and Rs 12 per km (to a maximum of 3,000 km) petrol allowance in case they use their personal car.
The Advisers also get Rs 5,000 per month as entertainment allowance and Rs 5,000 per month towards driver's salary.
Their medical bills are reimbursed.The salary to the staff attached is over and above these perks.
Harcharan Bains, Adviser to the Chief Minister, national affairs, and Jangveer Singh, Media Adviser to the Deputy Chief Minister, who enjoy the status of Minister of State, get a salary of Rs 30,000 each. They are entitled to all the perks.
The salary of Assistant Media Advisers Vineet Joshi and Harjinder Sidhu is Rs 20,000 per month. They too are entitled to all government perks.
"Journalists being made media advisers is a practice even in the Union Government. So, why question when this is being done in Punjab," quipped one of them.
However, what other journalists question is having a battery of them at a time when the state is tottering on bankruptcy.
Salary & perks