The Karnataka High Court has said that appointing a person with Cabinet rank status does not make him Minister, as it dismissed a PIL challenging the appointment of political secretaries and advisors to Chief Minister Siddaramaiah.
A bench of Chief Justice Prasanna B Varle and Justice Krishna S Dixit said making such appointments fell under the domain of Executive and there is no breach of any rule of law.
The petitioner S Umapathi, a Bengaluru-based advocate, challenged the appointment of Dr K Govindraj and Nazeer Ahmed as political secretaries, as well as the appointment of Sunil Kanugolu as chief advisor, and K V Prabhakar as media advisor to the CM with the status of Cabinet rank.
The petitioner contended that the appointments, equivalent to the rank of a Cabinet minister, are without jurisdiction and unconstitutional.
He cited Article 164(1A) of the Constitution, which prescribes that the total number of ministers, including the chief minister, shall not exceed 15% of the total number of members of the Legislative Assembly.
With these appointments, the 15% ceiling has been breached, he claimed.
Opposing the plea, the state government said that these persons are not ministers though they have been conferred with the Cabinet rank.
The bench said that the text of Clause (1A) of Article 164, which has been introduced by the 91st Amendment Act, 2003, with effect from January 1, 2004, prescribing the ceiling limit as to the number of ministers is "as clear as the Gangetic waters".
It is nobody's case that the private respondents have been appointed as ministers. If the private respondents were appointed as ministers, there could have been scope for the invocation of the subject provision of the Article, the court said.
"Merely because a Cabinet status is conferred on a particular appointee, that per se does not make him a minister within the meaning of Article 164," the court said.
The bench further said, the status of Cabinet rank is conferred on persons appointed to posts/offices other than that of ministers as well, needs no research.
"Since the enactment of the Constitution, in several states, eg, Assam, Meghalaya, etc, persons are appointed with such status even when they are not members of the Council of Ministers. Such status is conferred for various reasons that fall within the exclusive domain of the Executive and therefore, the court cannot undertake their deeper examination in Judicial Review," the bench said.