With one chief advisor, one legal advisor, one media advisor and two political secretaries — and all with Cabinet rank — it seems Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah has made several appointments to keep up political and personal commitments.
The appointments of the political secretaries and advisors will not only cost the state exchequer, but is also likely to face legal hurdles if precedence is to go by, given that the constitutional validity of such appointments have been questioned in courts.
Despite having the full-fledged 34-member Cabinet, the government has appointed five others, including two members of the Karnataka Legislative Council and a member of the Legislative Assembly, as the political secretaries and legal advisor, respectively, in the rank of a Cabinet minister.
All of Siddaramaiah’s men
Congress MLCs Naseer Ahmed and K Govindaraj — both considered close aides of Siddaramaiah — have been appointed as political secretaries to the chief minister.
Since Siddaramaiah couldn’t accommodate them in the Cabinet, the post of political secretary with Cabinet rank has been given to the two, as per those close to Siddaramaiah. Their appointment is the result of Siddaramaiah’s personal commitment to his loyalists, sources told South First.
— CM of Karnataka (@CMofKarnataka) June 2, 2023
Congress Virajpet MLA A S Ponnanna, who is a former additional advocate-general, has been appointed as legal advisor to the chief minister. Ponnanna, who headed the Karnataka Congress’ Legal Cell, is a first-time MLA and could not be accommodated in the Cabinet.
KV Prabhakar, who has been Siddaramaiah’s shadow for years now, has been appointed as the media advisor to the chief minister.
Prabhakar was Siddaramaiah’s media coordinator during his previous stint as chief minister as well. Prabhakar’s appointment is seen as a reward for his commitment to Siddaramaiah even when he was out of power.
The most interesting appointment has been that of Congress’ poll strategist Sunil Kanugolu who is now the chief advisor to the chief minister.
Unlike the other four appointees, Sunil Kanugolu is neither a legislator nor a loyalist of Siddaramaiah. His appointment is said to be a directive from the central leadership of the Congress, insist Siddaramaiah’s aides.
Kanugolu’s appointment has left many Siddaramaiah loyalists fuming. Keeping the 2024 Lok Sabha elections in mind, the party is banking on Kanugolu’s professional assistance for feedback from the ground, perception-management, narrative-building and impact-assessment of government’s policy decisions real-time.
Much like during the Assembly election campaign, the idea, party sources said, was to constantly assess impact and need for course correction on all government decisions.
34 Cabinet ministers and then some
All the above mentioned five appointees, thanks to their Cabinet rank, are entitled to the same perks, including wages, reimbursements, and staff, as that of a Cabinet minister.
The previous BJP government had revised the salary of the Cabinet ministers, MLAs and MLCs.
A Cabinet minister will draw at least ₹3,22,500 per month as a salary. This also includes monthly home rent allowance of ₹1.20 lakh, daily tour allowance of ₹2,500 and supplementary allowance of ₹37,500 per month.
Apart from the wages, each will be provided a separate staff, official vehicle with driver, office at Vidhana Soudha, and other perks, all at a cost to the exchequer.
Previous instances of legal hurdles
There are many instances in the past, where a petitions have been filed against the state government for such political appointments in the Karnataka High Court.
The recent one was a PIL filed by Samaj Parivarthana Samuday founder president SR Hiremath against the Basavaraj Bommai government for the appointment of then MLAs MP Renukacharya and DN Jeevaraj as political secretaries, and Beluru Sudarshan and Kedarnat Mudda as political advisors.
“These political appointments are unconstitutional since the state cannot create hybrid constitutional posts to overcome the constitutional mandate under Article 164(1A) of the Constitution”, the petitioner said, according to a news report by The Times of India.
The Article 164(1A) states the total number of ministers, including the chief minister, cannot exceed 15 percent of the total members of the Legislative Assembly of a state. As the Karnataka Assembly is a 224-member house, hence, a maximum of 34 ministers can be in the Cabinet.
The petitioner further said: “There is neither duty nor responsibility attached to these posts. These appointments have caused damage to the public exchequer.”
Based on this petition, the Karnataka High Court had served notice to the Bommai government. However, the state government reportedly did not responded to the high court notice.
In another such instance, based on a PIL filed by Bengaluru-based advocate S Umapathi challenging the appointment of NR Santosh as political secretary to chief minister BS Yediyurappa, the Karnataka High Court had issued a notice to the government.
However, the case couldn’t continue as NR Santosh resigned for his position as political secretary.
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No sanctity left in the Cabinet: Former bureaucrat
Describing the political appointments as unconstitutional, retired IAS officer SM Jamdar told South First: “No sanctity is left in the Cabinet.”
“These political advisors, secretaries and legal advisors with Cabinet rank will not have any power but they will enjoy the same perks that of a Cabinet minister,” he noted.
“They will get the same wages as that of a minister, separate office, and staff. These appointments are unconstitutional and will also cost the state exchequer. This is just political management by the ruling party to cool-off dissent among the MLAs.”
“This practice was first started by the Congress. Former chief minister Devaraj Urs had at least six political secretaries. There are many examples where the former chief ministers appointing political secretaries and advisors, flouting the norms,” elaborated Jamadar.
He further said: “This will be a burden on the exchequer because the state government is grappling to make ends meet to implement all the five poll guarantees. These guarantees will cost heavily to the exchequer.”
“The government could have avoided these unnecessary political appointments, which burden the treasury,” opined Jamadar.
The government has made 10 more appointments as staff for the chief minister. Of them, two are IAS officers, two are KAS officers and others.
Senior IAS officer Rajneesh Goel has been appointed as the Additional Chief Secretary (ACS) to the chief minister as a concurrent charge. He will also continue to be the ACS for the Home Department.
Bengaluru Water Supply and Sewerage Board Chairman N Jayaram, an IAS officer, has been appointed as the secretary to the chief minister as a concurrent charge.
Department of Health and Family Welfare Additional Chief Secretary K Chiranjeevi has been appointed as the special on-duty officer for the chief minister.
KAS officers Dr Venkateshaiah and B Shivaswamy, have been appointed as the personal secretary and joint-secretary, respectively, to the chief minister.
Karnataka Municipal Administration Service (KAMS) officer Dr K Vaishanavi and Bengaluru’s Ganganagar Sub-Registrar R Mahadev have been appointed as the officer on special duty to the chief minister.
M Venkatesh and KN Vijay have also been appointed as special officers for the chief minister.
PA Gopal, retired joint-secretary of the Department for Rural Development and Panchayat Raj, has been named the joint-secretary on a contract basis to the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund.