The Bombay High Court in Goa said on Monday (April 25) that “arguable issues have been raised” in a PIL challenging the “lifetime status of the rank of Cabinet Minister” granted to Pratapsingh Rane, six-time Chief Minister of Goa and legislator for 50 years.
The unprecedented status was bestowed on the octogenarian Congress leader last January by the state’s previous BJP government. Days after the announcement, Rane withdrew from running for the Legislative Assembly, even though he had already been declared a candidate for Congress from his stronghold of Poriem.
His daughter-in-law Deviya Rane debuted from the seat on a BJP ticket and won by the biggest margin in the state.
Lawyer Aires Rodrigues, who filed the PIL challenging the decision to grant such status to Rane, said it was the first time in the country that a state government had taken such a step. The PIL was admitted on Monday and a divisional bench consisting of Judges MS Sonak and RN Laddha will hear the case on May 2.
What is Pratapsingh Rane’s ‘Lifetime Cabinet Minister Status’?
On January 6, Chief Minister Pramod Sawant announced that the state cabinet had made the decision to grant Rane this special status. “Mr. Pratapsingh Raoji Rane, former Chief Minister and former Speaker (of the Goa Legislative Assembly) has completed 50 years as a legislator. The Cabinet has decided that also in the future, those who turn 50 and hold positions like CM and President, like Pratapsingh Rane, will be granted Cabinet status even after retirement,” Sawant said.
The previous government led by Sawant, in which Rane’s son Vishwajit Rane was also a minister, made the decision just over a month before the February 14 parliamentary elections. Last year a congratulatory motion was passed in the Assembly and MPs from all parties congratulated Rane, who first won the Sattari seat in 1972 and had never lost an election by the following.
On March 24, 2021, Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted: “Congratulations to Shri Pratapsingh Rane Ji on the momentous achievement of completing 50 years as an MP. His passion for public service and the progress of Goa is reflected in his work. I remember our interactions when we were both chief ministers of our respective states.
So what did the PIL filed in the Bombay High Court in Goa dispute?
Barrister Rodrigues has urged the High Court to quash the government’s January 7 notification under which Rane was given “lifetime status of the rank of minister”. Rodrigues argued that Goa has a 12-member Cabinet, and granting Cabinet status to Rane increases the number of Cabinet ranks to 13, which exceeds the ceiling imposed by the Constitution.
Stating that the very purpose of the 91st Amendment was to prevent giant cabinets and the resulting drain on the public treasury, Rodrigues argued that the lifetime status granted to Rane was a “back door in willful disobedience to the mandate of the law.” “.
The Constitution (91st Amendment) Act 2003 inserted clause 1A into section 164, which states that “the total number of ministers, including the chief minister, in the cabinet of a state shall not exceed fifteen percent of the total number of members. of the Legislative Assembly of such State…provided that the number of Ministers, including the Chief Minister of a State, shall not be less than twelve”.
There are 40 seats in the unicameral Goa Assembly.
Rodrigues told the court on Monday that as a minister for life, Rane would be entitled to 12 staff – OSD, support staff, peons, driver – which would cost the treasury Rs 90 lakh a year. Although Rane did not benefit, the rank of “Cabinet” would also entitle him to government housing, a vehicle and unlimited free travel for him and his wife, Rodrigues told The Indian Express.
Why did the BJP make this decision for a politician who had spent 45 of his 50 years as a congressman?
There is a backstory to the decision, announced ahead of the Assembly elections.
In December 2021, Congress had declared Rane as its candidate for the Poriem seat. Shortly after, Rane’s son, then state health minister Vishwajit Rane (who retains Pramod Sawant’s current government portfolio), said he would challenge his father on the BJP ticket and beat him. with a record margin. Vishwajit, an undefeated five-time lawmaker from nearby Valpoi seat, left Congress in 2017 to join the BJP.
At a public rally the same month, former Maharashtra chief minister and BJP election official in Goa, Devendra Fadnavis, said his party would soon receive “blessings” from Rane. Fadnavis had previously met Rane at his residence and asked for the “blessing” to leave the Poriem headquarters for Vishwajit and the BJP.
The Ranes, who are among the most politically influential families in Goa, dominate the Sattari taluka, which includes the seats of Valpoi and Poriem.
For several days there has been speculation about a possible father-son electoral duel in Poriem. Eventually, Pratapsingh Rane’s decision to back down was seen as Vishwajit having prevailed over his father. While Vishwajit himself remained in Valpoi, his wife Deviya made a sensational debut in Poriem, bringing the seat to the BJP for the first time.
Rodrigues’ PIL states that since Rane, a candidate for Congress at the time he was granted Life Cabinet status, “was able to overthrow the ruling party’s apple basket in Poriem, a dishonest strategy was adopted by the BJP to offer him a carrot not to run for office”.
Deviya’s victory in Poriem also strengthened Vishwajit’s position in the BJP. While he lost in the race to become CM after the BJP returned to power in March, he effectively functions as No. 2 in a cabinet that includes lawmakers senior to him.
What were the political reactions to the decision to grant Rane life minister status?
Rane himself had said he hadn’t asked. “They recognized my 50 years of service. Maybe the government thought it best to do so. I didn’t ask for it,” he said. On Monday, his attorney Joao Dias declined to comment on PIL in court.
Vishwajit, however, had thanked his cabinet colleagues profusely. He had tweeted on January 6: “I am grateful to the Honorable Chief Minister @DrPramodSawant and the entire cabinet for granting life cabinet status to my father Shri Pratapsingh Raoji Rane. There is no better way to honor his 50 years of public service as Chief Minister, President and MP.
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Girish Chodankar, then chairman of the Goa Pradesh Congress Committee, said the BJP was “desperate” ahead of the election but Rane would not “fall prey” to the party’s decision.
“It’s a new initiative. It’s unheard of. We don’t know if what they announced is legal or illegal, constitutional or unconstitutional. But the BJP is desperate and it can do anything. It (Pratapsingh Rane ) commands the respect of people like no one else and he has a place in the hearts of the people of Goa. In 50 years, he has an unblemished track record. His loyalty to the party is unquestionable. He is a royal man and right. These things are too small for a man of his stature. He will not fall prey to these things,” Chodankar had said.