Punjab gets 21 new chief parliamentary secretaries

Chandigarh, April 10 (IANS) Brushing aside criticism of adding further financial and administrative burden on the debt-ridden Punjab government, Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal Tuesday went ahead with the swearing-in of 21 new Chief Parliamentary Secretaries (CPS) in his government.

Badal, who heads the Shiromani Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in the state, Tuesday administered the oath of office and secrecy to 21 legislators as CPSs at the historic Sikh battleground of Chappar Chiri near Mohali, 20 km from here.

Badal, who was sworn in as chief minister for a record fifth term last month, had also taken oath of office at the same venue with 17 cabinet ministers, including his deputy chief minister son Sukhbir Singh Badal. The Akali Dal-BJP government is the only one in Punjab's political history of over 45 years to return to power for a second term.

Out of the newly inducted 21 CPS, 17 are from the Akali Dal while four are from the BJP.

Chief Secretary Rakesh Singh conducted the proceedings of the swearing-in ceremony.

The swearing in of so many CPS' is a record of sorts and has been criticized by the opposition Congress.

Badal has defended the decision saying that by appointing so many CPS', the leaders will be able to gain experience in administration.

The post of chief parliamentary secretary is one rank below that of a cabinet minister but above the administrative secretaries of the concerned department. The chief parliamentary secretaries enjoy nearly all the perks and facilities extended to ministers, including using the national flag on their official vehicles.

The move to induct so many chief parliamentary secretaries is clearly to accommodate a number of leaders who could not be made ministers when the Badal government was sworn in last month.

Under an all-India law curbing the size of ministries, only 15 per cent of the elected representatives in a legislature can be made ministers. In Punjab, the size of the cabinet can be a maximum of 18 in the 117-member assembly.

In its previous 2007-2012 tenure, the Badal government had nearly a dozen chief parliamentary secretaries.

With the number going up to 21, the move is likely to cost the fund-starved Punjab government a few crore rupees in monthly bills with the salaries, perks and other facilities extended to the new chief parliamentary secretaries.

Those sworn in Tuesday included Balbir Singh Ghunnas, Nand Lal, Sohan Singh Thandal, Desraj Dhugga, Montar Singh Brar, Harmeet Singh Sandhu, Mohinder Kaur Josh, Avinash Chander, Inderbir Singh Bolaria, Gurbachan Singh Babehali, Virsa Singh Valtoha, Amarpal Singh Bonny Ajnala, Pawan Kumar Teenu, Parkash Chand Garg, Sarup Singla, N.K Sharma, Nisara Khatoon (all Akali Dal) and K.D Bhandari, Amarjit Singh Sahi, Som Parkash and Navjot Kaur Sidhu (all BJP).

Navjot Kaur Sidhu is the wife of BJP MP from Amritsar and former cricketer Navjot Sidhu, Nisara Khatoon is the wife of former Punjab director general of police Izhar Alam, Som Prakash is a retired bureaucrat and N.K. Sharma is a leading builder.

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