The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Catch 12 for downsize CM

Ranchi, July 7: Chief minister Arjun Munda today discovered to his discomfiture that he can neither have more than 12 ministers nor can he have less than 12 — a seemingly absurd situation, according to his camp followers. What’s more, the state will always have 12 ministers, neither more nor less.

According to the amended rules, the strength of the council of ministers, including the chief minister, in a state should not exceed 15 per cent of the total strength of the Vidhan Sabha and at the same time no state can have less than 12 ministers. In the case of Jharkhand, it is a coincidence that 15 per cent of the strength of the Assembly also comes to 12, confirmed advocate-general Anil Kumar Sinha.

Article 169, pointed out BJP insiders, prescribes an upper limit but they argued that it does not prevent the chief minister from having a smaller ministry. But a clause, appended to Article 169, states: “Provided the size of the ministry, including the chief minister, shall not be less than 12.”

This is the clause which the governor cited last night at Raj Bhavan and told the chief minister that he must have at least 12 ministers. The advocate-general was summoned to Raj Bhavan for his opinion and he, too, endorsed the governor’s stand.

The stalemate at Raj Bhavan continued for several hours as the principal secretary to the chief minister, U.K. Sangma, kept shuttling to an ante room to brief Munda and seek instructions. The high drama eventually came to an end when the chief minister blinked and agreed to induct three more ministers than he had bargained for.

Despite the advocate-general’s opinion and his stout defence of the governor’s stand, the BJP camp remains far from convinced. Indicating that they will seek the opinion of constitutional experts and, if necessary, urge the Supreme Court for its interpretation, many of them wondered how the same Article of the Constitution can possibly lay down both the upper limit as well as the lower limit of the ministry.

The clause, they argued, cannot be read in isolation and must be read with the main provision. Since the main section prescribes the upper limit, namely 15 per cent of the strength of the Assembly, the clause can only be an exception. They interpret the clause to cover an exceptional case when 15 per cent of the House strength may fall below 10 in even smaller states.

Since the Jharkhand Assembly has a strength of 82, 15 per cent of the strength comes to 12.

The constitutional tightrope appears to have closed the options before the chief minister. By initially opting to have only nine ministers, Munda was keeping doors open for an expansion and induct three ministers from the Janata Dal (United).

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