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Govt lines up ministry size bill

Bhopal, Sept. 26: The Centre is planning to push through two bills in the coming winter session of Parliament that could have a far-reaching impact on the country’s polity.

One bill aims to limit the size of ministries to 15 per cent of the strength of the Lok Sabha and Assemblies. The second bill envisages automatic disqualification of any member who defies the party whip. The existing law recognises a “split” if the breakaway group can rustle up one-third the number of MLAs or MPs a party has. “Politics is not going to be the same again if these bills are passed during the winter session of Parliament,” BJP general secretary Pramod Mahajan said at a news conference in Bhopal today.

Mahajan, a former parliamentary affairs minister, exuded confidence that both bills would be passed and claimed there was “near consensus” among all political groups to push them through.

The BJP leader said there was “general agreement” among political parties that the existing anti-defection law should be amended. “Currently, a major anomaly is that the provisions of the bill legitimise wholesale defections but discourage retail defections,” he added.

Mahajan said the other bill, which relates to strength of ministries, has been given final shape by the law ministry. He said all states, with bicameral legislatures, would have to limit the size of their ministries to 15 per cent of the strength of the lower House to which MLAs are directly elected by the people.

For example, if the bill is passed, the Uttar Pradesh ministry will be restricted to 61 members as the strength of the Assembly is 403. In the recent past, the state has seen its council of ministers cross the hundred mark.

In Madhya Pradesh, chief minister Digvijay Singh’s council has 50 ministers. If the 15 per cent formula is implemented, the 230-member Assembly would ensure that the size of the ministry is restricted to approximately 35.

At the Centre, Mahajan said, the size of the ministry would be limited to 15 per cent of the strength of the Lok Sabha, which means 80-odd ministers. The law would, however, have no bearing on the existing council of ministers at the Centre and in states.

The BJP general secretary said there would be separate provisions for smaller states like Goa and some north-eastern states which will have a ceiling on the size of ministries in the range of 10 to 12 ministers. In Delhi, for instance, there is a barrier on having more than six ministers.

At present, some states are notorious for jumbo-sized ministries. In Bihar, nearly all the 19 Congress MLAs have been made ministers. Similarly, some north-eastern states, where large-scale defections are a perennial problem, have huge ministries.

Both bills would require a constitutional amendment. So they have to be passed by two-thirds majority in both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha. In other words, it means the National Democratic Alliance government would need the support of the Congress and other Opposition parties.

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