On the backfoot after controversy over the appointment of law officers in Punjab, Chief Minister Amarinder Singh on Saturday claimed that all appointments were on merit and there was no favouritism or nepotism. “Every single appointment of the new Law Officers in the state government was based on merit after taking into account the professional qualifications and expertise of the candidates,” Amarinder said in a statement here on Saturday, trashing reports that kin of influential people in his government and party were appointed.
Lawyer Rameeza Hakeem, wife of Punjab Advocate General Atul Nanda (who is a close confidante of Amarinder); Sukhmani Bajwa, daughter of Congress legislator Fateh Jang Singh Bajwa; Deepali Puri, wife of Amarinder’s OSD Sandeep Sandhu; former Chandigarh mayor and Congress leader Anu Chatrath; relatives of sitting and former judges, bureaucrats and politicians were accommodated as law officers in the list of 121 announced on Friday.
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Reacting to reports suggesting that the kin of various Congress and government functionaries had been accommodated in the new legal team, Amarinder, who became Chief Minister for a second time in March this year, said: “All appointments were cleared independently, without bias or prejudice, and solely on account of individual’s background, proficiency and experience. It is unfortunate that a political colour is being sought to be given to the appointments.”
The law officers will deal with cases concerning the Punjab government in the Punjab and Haryana High Court and the Supreme Court. There is tremendous pressure on the government to accommodate lawyers as law officers as they get good salaries and other perks. On Friday, the Amarinder Singh government claimed credit for downsizing its team of law officers from the existing 215 to 154. Out of the 121 new Law Officers appointed, 25 are additional advocate generals (AGs), 49 assistant AGs, 30 deputy AGs and 17 senior deputy AGs. Advocate General (AG) Nanda had proposed that 123 lawyers ought to be engaged in Chandigarh, while another 31 were required for Delhi.
The AG had pointed out that with an average of 25,000-26,000 fresh cases filed every year (2012-2015), and the figure escalating by almost 27 percent in 2016 to 33,000 cases, there was drastic need to scale up the number of law officers as this level of increase was expected to be maintained. Nanda pointed out that, compared to 2012, the increase in legal workload of the government was a big 160 percent and 432 law officers were required to deal with it. He said, however, that he had proposed a much smaller team.