By Arun Pratap Singh
Dehradun, 29 Aug: Uttarakhand is currently witnessing a political storm over irregularities in recruitments made by the Uttarakhand Subordinate Services Selection Commission (UKSSSC) and also over controversial appointments in the Uttarakhand Assembly Secretariat ordered by various Assembly Speakers ever since the formation of a separate state. Beginning from the time of BJP’s interim Government in November 2000 till December 2021, every Speaker’s tenure has witnessed controversial appointments in the State Assembly Secretariat. As the issue related to appointments in the Assembly Secretariat has become a major issue currently with some Congress leaders also raising the issue, Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami has claimed that the government would urge Speaker Ritu Khanduri to get all appointments in the State Assembly investigated. It may be pertinent to point out here that the government has no administrative control over the Assembly Secretariat, which is the exclusive domain of the Speaker. Most of the appointments in the Assembly Secretariat have been made without any written test or interviews. There do not seem to be any service rules in place regarding recruitment!
Uttar Pradesh, which has highest number of constituencies in its Assembly, has a staff strength of 540 employees in the Assembly Secretariat, while Uttarakhand which has just 70 Assembly constituencies and that too much smaller in size, but it has staff strength of 560 employees and, in addition, several dozens of interim employees!
While just a handful of appointments were made when the late Prakash Pant was the Speaker in the Interim Assembly and, being a new state, most of the appointments could be justified, too, this became a trend for the speakers who followed.
Whether it was Yashpal Arya when ND Tiwari was the Chief Minister, or Harbans Kapoor when BC Khanduri and RP Nishank were the chief ministers, or Govind Singh Kunjwal when Vijay Bahuguna and Harish Rawat were the CMs or, finally, Prem Chand Aggarwal during 2017-22, the practice continued. However, Govind Singh Kunjwal takes the cake in the matter of appointments. He made 141 regular appointments, the maximum so far by any Assembly Speaker and many interim appointments. This self-anointed Gandhian leader, who is considered very close to veteran Congress leader Harish Rawat, surpasses everyone else in matters of appointing not only many of his relatives who bear the same surname Kunjwal but also his own son and daughter-in-law. While speaking to the media, Kunjwal admitted that he had appointed his son and daughter-in-law but claimed that most of the “Kunjwals” appointed during his tenure as Speaker were not his family members or close relatives. He sought to justify the appointment of his son and daughter-in-law to the Assembly by claiming that they were eligible for appointments as they had the requisite qualifications. He felt there was a requirement in the Assembly Secretariat for eligible candidates.
Cabinet Minister Prem Chand Aggarwal, too, has sought to justify the appointments made by him when he was Speaker, during a recent interaction with the media, after this controversy arose, recently. He said that appointments had been made by his predecessors, too. He further claimed that Assembly Secretariat came under the direct administrative control of speakers and that they had the authority to appoint any eligible person if they felt the need. He further claimed that there was no irregularity in such appointments and each had been made in accordance with the rules! During his interaction with the media, he also sought to justify three promotions granted in a course of less than a year to the then Deputy Secretary, Mukesh Singhal, who was made Secretary, which is the top position in the Assembly Secretariat ignoring and bypassing the seniority of officers senior to him.
Experts, however, have opined that the Speaker does not have the authority to grant such multiple promotions in such a short period of time.
It may be recalled that, while in such appointments, the Speakers are to be mainly blamed, as they were the appointing authorities, they also chose to oblige many senior and influential political leaders whose recommendations were accepted by them from time to time. As a result, family members of PAs or OSDs to ministers or even the Chief Ministers managed to get regular appointments in the Assembly Secretariat. Some of the recommendations accepted by various Speakers have come from top political leaders of Uttarakhand cutting across political lines! Not only this, some journalists, including the editor of a famous news magazine, and one senior journalist from the electronic media too managed to get their spouses appointed in the Assembly Secretariat. It may be recalled that this news magazine had published news of such appointments made by Speakers about a decade ago and, soon after, wife of the editor-publisher of this very magazine was appointed in the Assembly Secretariat. The magazine never again highlighted this issue thereafter!