It is not politics but policy that binds the State and the civil society in purpose. The Constitution binds us more than any book of faith. Only by strictly adhering to it can we turn equality from an ideal into reality.
It seems that Jharkhand Chief Minister Raghubar Das isn’t completely familiar with the text of the Constitution. Or his duty to uphold it.
According to Article 163:
(1) There shall be a Council of Ministers with the Chief Minister at the head to aid and advise the Governor in the exercise of his functions, except in so far as he is by or under this Constitution required to exercise his functions or any of them in his discretion.
(2) If any question arises whether any matter is or is not a matter as respects which the Governor is by or under this Constitution required to act in his discretion, the decision of the Governor in his discretion shall be final, and the validity of anything done by the Governor shall not be called in question on the ground that he ought or ought not to have acted in his discretion.
(3) The question whether any, and if so what, advice was tendered by Ministers to the Governor shall not be inquired into in any court.
According to Article 164:
(1) The Chief Minister shall be appointed by the Governor and the other Ministers shall be appointed by the Governor on the advice of the Chief Minister, and the Ministers shall hold office during the pleasure of the Governor: Provided that in the States of Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Orissa, there shall be a Minister in charge of tribal welfare who may in addition be in charge of the welfare of the Scheduled Castes and backward classes or any other work.
(1A) The total number of Ministers, including the Chief Minister, in the Council of Ministers in a State shall not exceed fifteen percent of the total number of members of the Legislative Assembly of that State.
Asleep at the wheel
To sum up: There are only 11 ministers in Das' council, even though the Constitution prescribes 12. The government has completed two years in power but still hasn’t begun any procedure to appoint minister number 12.
Jharkhand Governor Draupadi Murmu recently summoned Saryu Rai, minister in charge of Parliamentary Affairs and Food and Civil Supplies in the BJP-led government, to express concern over that the Cabinet had only 11 ministers and was thus not functioning in accordance with the Constitution.
According to sources, Rai wrote a letter to Das, intimating him about the governor's concerns. Sources said the reply he received from the chief minister was something to the effect of : "Your letter has been forwarded to the concerned department."
Meanwhile, former Assembly speaker Inder Singh Namdhaari told Firstpost that former governor Ved Marwah threatened to suspend the Arjun Munda government over this issue, after which Munda swore in minister number 12 into the Cabinet.
Former Lok Sabha secretary general PDT Acharya told Firstpost that any state Cabinet must have a minimum of 12 ministers and not doing so violates the Constitution. Acharya also said that because of Section 164 (1A), even a state like Goa, which has a small number of legislators, must have 12 ministers.
Acharya said that in such a situation, Jharkhand Governor Draupadi Murmu must take suo moto action and that the chief minister should be forced to appoint minister number 12 quickly because it is the governor's duty to uphold and protect the Constitution.
A pattern emerges
If one was to look at the incident in isolation, one can consider it an oversight during the ebb and flow of governance. However, this isn't the only way in which Das is flouting the Constitution.
As per the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution, a tribal welfare minister must be appointed in Jharkhand, Odisha and Madhya Pradesh. In Jharkhand, the tribal welfare department has been merged with the Department of Social Welfare, Women and Child Development. Jharkhand's Scheduled Tribes (ST) population, as per the 2001 census, stands at 70 lakh. That's 26.3 percent of the state population, which is around 2.7 crore.
Scheduled Tribes are primarily rural: 91.7 percent of them live in villages. Population wise, Gumla district has the highest number of STs (68.4 percent). STs constitute more than half the population in Lohardaga and Pashchimi Singhbhum districts, whereas Ranchi and Pakaur districts have 41.8 – 44.6 percent of STs. Kodarma district (0.8 percent) and Chatra district (3.8 percent) have the lowest proportion of the STs. Jharkhand has 32 tribal groups.
Sources within the state government say that Murmu questioned State Women and Child Development Minister Louis Marandi on the lack of a separate tribal welfare minister. Sources said that Marandi told Murmu that the tribal welfare department had been merged with her department. The governor told Marandi that the delay in setting up a new division is tantamount to disrespecting the Constitution.
Saryu Rai then wrote to the chief minister yet again. However, the same reply was forthcoming: "Your letter has been forwarded to the concerned department."
The big question
Does the BJP government believe in the Constitution? Babulal Marandi, Jharkhand's first chief minister, and member of the Jharkhand Vikas Morcha, says that the BJP has not heeded the law.
As a key ministerial post lies vacant, ministers are shocked and the governor is worried. However, the chief minister remains unfazed. For now, Das is floating above it all—like the flying elephant—the state mascot for the Global Investors Summit that took place in February. But for how long?
Translated by Pallavi Rebbapragada
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Updated Date: May 19, 2017 17:36:31 IST