The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Lowdown on downsize

New Delhi, July 10: Arunachal Pradesh chief minister Gegong Apang could not downsize his ministry by the July 7 deadline and now the Assembly itself faces dissolution.

Across the country, 16 other chief ministers succeeded in cutting the size of their governments to the statutory 15 per cent of the Assembly strength.

In Uttar Pradesh, Mulayam Singh Yadav, who ran the country’s largest-ever ministry, had to trim down to 60. In Bihar, Rabri Devi shed 27 ministers; in Meghalaya, D.D. Lapang persuaded 29 to quit; in Assam, Tarun Gogoi dropped 16 and in Punjab Amarinder Singh relieved 20 of their posts.

Chief ministers are, however, cleverer than Parliament which thought of amending the law. In place of ministers, there is now an unusually large number of legislators holding posts that have cabinet and minister-of-state ranks. So, ministers till last week have become either parliamentary secretaries or chairmen of various state boards and corporations.

Within 24 hours of removing 31 ministers, Mulayam Singh handed them appointments with minister-of-state rank. After removing 20, Amarinder Singh compensated 11 as parliamentary secretaries.

Much the same story has played out in Meghalaya and Assam and is waiting to be replayed in Himachal Pradesh.

Vasundhara Raje of Rajasthan showed the way. She did not have to downsize her ministry as her government came into being after the enactment of the new law. But she was the first to appoint parliamentary secretaries — three — when she expanded her ministry soon after the parliamentary polls.

“It is a mockery of the Constitution,” said a senior BJP leader about the appointment of parliamentary secretaries and board/corporation chairmen.

There are leaders like the CPI’s D. Raja who had hoped the new law would release money for development.

“Let the state governments utilise the money saved from the historic downsizing for developmental projects,” the CPI leader had said.

At the Centre, Manmohan Singh is drastically slashing expenditure on ministers.

Union finance ministry estimates say the cost of maintaining a minister in a state is around Rs 1.5 crore a year.

By shedding the excess flab of around 250 ministers, the saving would be some Rs 375 crore a year. With many of the governments beating the law, the cost of maintaining parliamentary secretaries and board/corporation chairmen may turn out to be more because their salaries, by official reckoning, are higher.

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