Revisiting the Constitutional Ceiling in the light of Madhya Pradesh

The debate and speeches of the Constituent assembly have paramount importance in shaping the Constitutional jurisprudence of India. It is the debate and discourse culture which helps the Parliament as well as the Courts in India to draw inspiration and analyse the legislative intent behind the provisions. Dr B.R. Ambedkar, the chief architect of the Indian Constitution at times had been very critical of the Constitution. In a similar critical assessment on November 25, 1949, in his final speech at the Constituent Assembly, Dr Ambedkar not only warned the infant nation about the responsibilities but also acknowledged the limits of the Constitution. While delivering his speech he remarked “The Constitution can provide only the organs of State …. The factors on which the working of those organs depends are the people and political parties …” He made it clear to the people of India that the responsibility to make the Constitution work lies upon the people as well as the political representative they choose. 

However, the politics in India has defied the people’s mandate at times. There has been a trend in Indian politicians of keeping their interest above the people’s will. An extreme example of this trend could be traced back to 1967, when the legislator Gaya Lal changed his allegiance three times in a single day, giving rise to a popular expression “Aaya Ram Gaya Ram.” This change in allegiance not only mocked the election results but also manifested the inconsistency in the political sphere and ideological laxity in the leaders. Recently, a similar situation occurred in Madhya Pradesh after which there have been speculations regarding the council of ministers. 

Crisis in Madhya Pradesh 

Recently in Madhya Pradesh (“MP”), the Shivraj government has expanded its cabinet to 34 ministers. This expansion is seen as a potential Constitutional crisis in MP by the opposition.

 The Constitution of India has a ceiling on the number of ministers, through the Ninety-first Constitutional Amendment Act, 2003 (“Amendment Act”).

For the State governments, Article 164 was amended and clause 1A was added. Clause 1A of the provision defines the ceiling on the number of ministers that is 15 per cent of the total number of members of the legislative assembly of the State. Also, a proviso was added to bring every state government in consonance with the clause 1A.

Currently, there are 230 seats in the legislative assembly of MP out of which 24 lies vacant. Therefore, the number of current members is only 206. A careful examination of the aforementioned provision, exclaims ‘members’ and not the ‘total number of seats.’ Taking the constitutional mandate into consideration, the total number of ministers in the council shall not exceed 31 (15 per cent of 206) in MP. However, the debate of the recent state government’s violation of the constitution and the ceiling gives rise to a very fascinating question, why is there a ceiling on the number of ministers?

 Why the ceiling?

This amendment was enacted to make the anti-defection law stronger, as defection is a disrespect towards the will of the people. Interestingly, India is not the only country to suffer because of defection. England, which is called the mother of democracy has been facing this political menace throughout its history. Mr Ramsay McDonald in the year 1931, defected to become the Prime Minister, even Mr Churchill left the liberal party to be a part of the Conservative party. The phenomenon of defection is not only against the will of the people but also it jeopardizes the stability and development of a democratic State.

In India, the trend of bulk defection in the avarice of ministerial position has always halted the development of the country. It has been observed in India that the unsatisfied members of parliament or legislative assembly would leave their parties or defy the mandate of the people for the sake of ministerial position. 

The Statement of object and reason (“SOR”) of the amendment act, further specifies the need of an upper limit on the strength of the council of ministers. According to the SOR, the amendment to Article 164 compliments the anti-defection law and also controls the burden on exchequer’s money. The larger the council of ministers, the higher is the expense on their salary, allowances, and security. India is not a rich nation like the United States or any other developed nation and as a matter of fact, only 14% of the population files IT returns. 

The 104th Standing Committee report on home affairs explains how some States have councils of ministers which surpass the mark of 50 per cent. For example, before the Amendment Act, Meghalaya had a total of 68 members in the state legislative assembly, of which 38 were a part of the council of ministers, a whopping 63% of the total number of members. This data shows how even small States burden themselves financially by having an excessively large council of ministers as compared to the strength of their assemblies.

Apart from defection and expenses, a big council of ministers also hampers proper functioning and decision-making capabilities. The greater number of people involved the higher are the chances of delay even in matters of urgency. 

Way ahead 

The SOR of the Amendment Act and report of the Standing Committee emphasizes the importance of ceiling in the number of members for the council of ministers. MP is no exception and therefore, the strength of the council of ministers must be brought in consonance with the constitutional mandate. 

The idea of former Chief Justice of India, Justice Mr M.N. Venkatachalaiah in the foreword of the Constitution of Jammu and Kashmir-Development, and Comments synchronizes with the final speech of Dr Ambedkar. Justice Venkatachalaiah notes- 

“the mere existence of a Constitution by itself does not ensure constitutionalism. What are important are the political traditions of the people and its spirit and determination to work out its constitutional salvation through the chosen system of its political organization.”

Justice Mr M.N. Venkatachalaiah

The courts must check the violation of the Constitution and safeguard the core and fundamental values. The position in Madhya Pradesh could be solved by respectfully removing the exceeding ministers from the council and adhering to Article 164(1A). 

Cite this article as: Shaileshwar Yadav, "Revisiting the Constitutional Ceiling in the light of Madhya Pradesh," in THE QUEST Sociolegal Review , July 14, 2020, https://thequestslr.in/2020/revisiting-the-constitutional-ceiling-in-the-light-of-madhya-pradesh/.

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