The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Snip: defectors and ministry

New Delhi, Dec. 11: The government has breathed life back into a drive to make defections virtually impossible and check the runaway rise in the number of ministers.

A draft of a constitution amendment bill approved by the cabinet last night has removed an immunity clause that legalised splits if the defectors commanded the support of one-third of a parliamentary or legislature party.

Under the amended draft bill, scheduled to be introduced in the Lok Sabha before the end of the winter session this month, a split in the legislature party alone will not do. The national executive of the party itself will have to splinter, which will make defections extremely difficult.

Besides, the draft has a clause that disallows defectors from holding office of profit — the main incentive for crossovers. If a legislator still crosses over, he has to contest an election again on the symbol of the party he has defected to.

The draft bill had been cleared earlier by the cabinet. But Parliament referred the bill to a committee, which sent it back to the cabinet with amendments.

In another key decision incorporated in the same draft, the government has limited the strength of the council of ministers to 15 per cent of the total number of members in the Lok Sabha.

The move addresses the unchecked ballooning of the size of ministries but somewhat dilutes the original proposal.

When the plan was mooted, the government wanted to limit the number of ministers to 10 per cent of the strength of both Houses of Parliament. But last night, it accepted the recommendation of the committee to fix the size at 15 per cent of the Lok Sabha.

Had the first plan survived, the size of the Union ministry would have had to be confined to 79. Under the amended draft, the size can go up to 82. This gives a narrow breathing space to Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s ministry, which, after touching a record 79 once, is now hovering around 75.

In the case of a big Assembly, the ceiling will be 15 per cent of the strength of the legislature. For smaller states, the cap will be 12, up from the original plan of seven.

If the bill is voted into law, Mulayam Singh Yadav’s 97 ministers in Uttar Pradesh will be far in excess of the 61 that the new formula will permit. Known for inventing ministries generously, the Left Front government in Bengal, with 48 ministers, will have a thin surplus over the ceiling of 44.

The government said the earlier recommendation was modified as not all states have bicameral legislatures.

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