Calcutta High Court strikes down bill passed by Bengal Assembly, terms it ‘unconstitutional’

Kolkata(PTI): The Calcutta High Court on Monday struck down as “unconstitutional” a bill passed by the West Bengal Assembly through which the Mamata Banerjee government had appointed 26 parliamentary secretaries to “aid and advise” state ministers.

Terming the West Bengal Parliamentary Secretaries (Appointment, Salaries, Allowances and Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, 2012, as unconstitutional, a division bench comprising Chief Justice Manjula Chellur and Justice Asim Banerjee observed that it was violative of Article 164(1A) of the Constitution. Article 164 (1A) provides that the strength of a council of ministers headed by the chief minister cannot exceed 15 per cent of the strength of the Assembly (the total number of MLAs).

The court also noted the lack of competence of the state Assembly to frame such law. After Trinamool Congress came to power in 2011, the state Assembly passed a bill in December, 2012 to create posts of parliamentary secretaries to ‘aid and advise’ state ministers.

The bill and subsequent appointments were challenged before the high court claiming that this was done to bypass the existing law under Article 164(1A) of the Constitution.
It was also claimed that MLAs were given the posts so as to gratify them at the cost of the exchequer.

Caught between the need to beef up the delivery system and the obligation to keep the number of ministers within 43, (15 per cent of the total 294 MLAs), Banerjee had inducted 13 MLAs as parliamentary secretaries in January 2013. Another 13 MLAs were inducted as parliamentary secretaries in January, 2014, taking up the total strength of such appointees to 26.