SC notice on Bengal’s plea for restoring parliamentary secretaries

New Delhi, Aug 7 (IANS) The Supreme Court on Friday issued notice on the West Bengal government’s plea challenging the state high court verdict striking down the appointment of 24 parliamentary secretaries and declaring “unconstitutional” the act under which these appointments were made.

A bench of Chief Justice H.L.Dattu, Justice Arun Mishra and Justice Amitava Roy, while issuing notice, gave respondents Vishak Bhattacharya and others three weeks time to respond to the state government’s petition.

The court said that a week thereafter it would hear West Bengal government’s plea seeking stay of the high court order as an interim relief.

The Calcutta High Court, on June 1, while striking down the West Bengal Parliamentary Secretaries (Appointment, Salaries, Allowances and Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 2012, had ruled that that it was in breach of article 164 (1A) of the constitution that fixes the ceiling on the number of minister in the council of ministers.

The article fixes the total number of ministers, including the chief minister, in a state shall not exceed 15 percent of the total number of members of the state’s legislative assembly, “provided that the number of ministers, including the chief minister in a state shall not be less than 12”.

Under the West Bengal act, that came into force in 2013, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had appointed 24 parliamentary secretaries enjoying the status of minister of state or deputy minister with same perks and salaries, said senior counsel Rakesh Dwivedi.

The high court verdict had come on a PIL by petitioners Bhattacharya and Pushpal Chakraborty, who had contended that the promulgation of an act to create the positions of parliamentary secretaries was in breach of article 164 (1A) as the number of ministers in the state would go beyond the cap of 15 percent of the total strength of the elected assembly members.

It was contended that the total strength of the West Bengal council of ministers could not exceed 44 ministers – 15 percent of the 294-member assembly – but creating 24 parliamentary secretaries enjoying the rank of ministers took the number to 68 and thus violated the constitutional provision.

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