After Goa & Manipur, would the strength of Punjab’s Council of Ministers also be raised to 12 ?

CHANDIGARH -20/4/22, This past Saturday, March 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.

An Advocate at Punjab and Haryana High Court, Hemant Kumar, said in case of both Goa and Manipur, whose Legislative Assembly strength is 40 and 60 respectively, the maximum number of Ministers including the CM can be 12 as per Article 164 (1A) of Constitution of India.

However, he said interestingly the language used in First Proviso to ibid Article also specifies the minimum strength of Ministry’s at 12 since it is mentioned therein that the number of Ministers including the CM in a State shall not be less than twelve.

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.

However, on March 23 Pushkar Singh Dhami was sworn in as CM of Uttarakhand along with 8 other Ministers, hence his Ministry’s current strength is three less than the minimum number of 12.

Meanwhile, a month back on 16th March the Governor of Punjab, BL Purohit appointed Bhagwant Maan as Chief Minister of Punjab. He was administered Oath of Office and Secrecy by the Governor the same day.

Three days later, on 19th March the Governor Purohit on the advice of CM Mann appointed 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. All 10 were administered the Oath of Office & Secrecy the same day by the Governor.

Further, on 21st March, the Governor again on the advice of CM Mann allocated respective portfolios as mentioned in State Government Business Allocation Rules, 2007 amongst all newly sworn in Cabinet Ministers including Mann who currently holds a total of 27 portfolios.

Amidst all this, Hemant on March 20 itself wrote to President of India, Prime Minister, Union Home Minister along with Governor, CM Mann and Chief Secretary of Punjab objecting to current strength of Mann’s Council of Ministers being eleven, which is one 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 hereinbefore mentioned 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 is 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 is 117 and thus maximum number of Ministers in Punjab’s Council of Ministers can be 15% of 117 i.e. 17.55 ( means 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 in due course.

Hence, Hemant points out that until and unless the strength of Punjab’s current Council of Ministers is raised from current 11 to 12, it nevertheless lacks 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.

It has been a month but the Advocate is yet to get any sort of response or reply from anyone to whom he wrote in this regard. However, he has got an email (cc copy) from the Office of Principal Secretary to CM a few days back 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.

Hemant exhorts that toeing the recent examples of Goa and Manipur, Punjab CM Bhagwant Mann should too induct at least one more Minister in his Cabinet immediately thus taking its current strength to 12 which is the minimum number required for Council of Ministers in every State as per Article 164(1A) of Constitution of India. Similarly, his counterpart in Uttarakhand, Pushkar Dhami should follow suit by however inducting three more Ministers in his Cabinet.

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