Madhya Pradesh: COVID-19 Crisis Makes Chouhan Sole Custodian of Rs 1 Lakh Crore

Ghughuti Bulletin

Raipur: The Madhya Pradesh government has taken recourse to Article 213, which enables a governor to promulgate an ordinance, to issue two financial ordinances that provide one man – chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan – to control Rs 1 lakh crore from the state’s consolidated fund. Under the cover of COVID-19 crisis, Chouhan has also burdened the state with an additional expense of Rs 4,443 crore.

In an unprecedented move, the chief minister has also formed a ten-man COVID-19 task force which is headed by the state BJP president V.D. Sharma as convenor and the chief minister is a member. For all practical purposes, this is the shadow cabinet that Chouhan has formed and includes all possible candidates for ministerial berths like Narottam Mishra, Rajendra Shukla and Tulsiram Silawat, the lone inclusion from the Jyotiraditya Scindia camp. It is worth pointing out that Chouhan has become the longest-serving chief minister without a cabinet in the constitutional history of the country.

The most amazing part is that the task force is now making decisions that ordinarily a cabinet would have done. For instance, it has “appreciated” Chouhan’s announcement of a minimum support price (MSP) of Rs 1,920 for the Rabi wheat crop and it has “lauded” the award of Rs 50 lakh to an Indore police inspector’s family. The Inspector lost his life to COVID-19 and his wife has been recommended for an appointment as sub-inspector by the task force. The task force is holding video conferences with various departments to discuss government guidelines on every subject from farmers to chambers of commerce, because the crisis is broad-ranging and everything flows from it and everything is covered.

With former chief minister Kamal Nath and his close confidant Digvijaya Singh taking a spring break, Congress has found the unlikeliest leader in Rajya Sabha member Vivek Tankha. Along with Kapil Sibal, Tankha is now heading the battle against Chouhan’s “unconstitutional activities” in the state. He wrote a letter to President Ram Nath Kovind on April 11, pointing out that under Article 163 and 164A of the Constitution, the state cannot function without a council of ministers.

“Why is there a difficulty in appointing a cabinet, when Chouhan could be sworn in almost a month ago? The governor has to follow the advice provided by the council of ministers headed by the chief minister and not the head alone,” Tankha told The Wire.

After he received no response either from the governor Lalji Tandon or the president, Tankha has now written to the president again, along with Kapil Sibal. The letter points out the “grave unconstitutionality” of the ordinances number 1 and 2 of 2020 appropriating the consolidated funds of the state by the chief minister.

He also points out that the bizarre task force evidently formed to advise the chief minister on the coronavirus crisis does not have a single health expert. Ironically, it has Silwat, who was the Congress government’s health minister but decamped to Bangalore as part of the Scindia rebel camp.

What happens if the cabinet is formed right away, The Wire asked Tankha, who said that it was one of his prayers to the president. “If the president is unable to take a decision and a pseudo cabinet runs the state, we will have no option but to approach the Supreme Court and put a stop to this unconstitutional functioning of the state government and pray for the imposition of President’s Rule,” he said.

Note: An earlier version of this story said Chouhan is the sole custodian of Rs 1.67 lakh crore instead of Rs 1 lakh crore.

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