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Punjab gets fifth advocate general in 10 months as Bhagwant Mann govt’s first pick resigns

Punjab CM Bhagwant Mann told reporters Tuesday that senior advocate Vinod Ghai will replace Anmol Rattan Sidhu as the state’s advocate general.

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New Delhi: A musical chairs-like situation continues for the position of Punjab’s advocate general, the state’s top legal officer, with the resignation of Anmol Rattan Sidhu, appointed by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government days after it came to power in March.

Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann informed reporters in Delhi Tuesday that senior advocate Vinod Ghai will replace Sidhu as the state’s advocate general. 

Ghai (62) is a leading criminal lawyer in the state, sources in the Punjab government told ThePrint. He will be the fifth individual to occupy the office of advocate general of Punjab since September 2021.

The resignations of Sidhu’s immediate predecessors — D.S. Patwalia, A.P.S. Deol and Atul Nanda — were learnt to have been prompted either by a change of chief ministers who had hand-picked them or infighting within the erstwhile Congress administration.

Sidhu’s resignation — described by him as one driven by “personal reasons” — comes in the backdrop of the AAP government in Punjab taking a U-turn on the issue of reservations in the appointment of law officers.

On 14 July, the Punjab government withdrew a petition it had filed in the Punjab and Haryana High Court on 29 June, challenging an order of the National Commission for Scheduled Castes that directed the state government to provide benefits of reservation in the appointment of individuals to the office of the advocate general.

Punjab’s decision to challenge the order was reportedly in line with the legal opinion of Sidhu, who advised against the “legal necessity for reservation in appointment of law officers” by the state government.

The AAP government’s opposition to reservation in the appointment of law officers was met with criticism from political rivals, including the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Congress.

A demonstration was also organised at Punjabi University on 7 July by employees and students hailing from Scheduled Caste (SC) communities to protest the move.

Also Read: 5 DGPs in 10 months — why Punjab Police ‘musical chairs’ has triggered alarm

Resigning for personal reasons: Sidhu

Anmol Rattan Sidhu, in his letter of resignation to CM Mann dated 19 July, cited “personal reasons” for his decision to step down as advocate general.

“I am really thankful to the party for giving me a chance to represent the office of the advocate general, Punjab. Due to my personal reasons, I won’t be able to serve this prestigious office. Therefore, I, hereby, tender my resignation which may kindly be accepted at earliest,” read the letter.

After the news of his resignation surfaced Tuesday, Sidhu told reporters that there was “no pressure” on him to resign and he did so owing to “personal reasons”.

Sidhu (63) was appointed Punjab’s advocate general on 19 March.

In 2012, Sidhu was appointed assistant solicitor general by the then United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government at the Centre. He has been elected president of the Punjab and Haryana HC Bar Association eight times, and has represented both states as additional advocate general, said an official in the Punjab government.

Patwalia, Deol & Nanda

Sidhu assumed office after the exit of senior advocate D.S. Patwalia, who was appointed the advocate general by the Charanjit Singh Channi government in November 2021. 

Patwalia resigned on 11 March — a day after the Congress lost power to the AAP in Punjab.

Before Patwalia, the office of Punjab advocate general was occupied by A.P.S. Deol, who was Channi’s first pick soon after he became chief minister following Captain Amarinder Singh’s resignation in September 2021. 

Deol, however, had to resign a little more than a month into the job owing to the tussle between Channi and the then Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee (PPCC) chief Navjot Singh Sidhu, who opposed Deol’s appointment.

Navjot Singh Sidhu had opposed Deol’s appointment because the latter had once represented two accused police officers and others involved in the 2015 sacrilege cases and police firing incidents that rocked Punjab, said a senior Congress leader.

“Deol has also had professional associations with several political leaders. For instance, he appeared for [former CM] Amarinder Singh in some criminal cases registered during the SAD-BJP regime [2007-17]. Then, in 2007, he was appointed special public prosecutor in a disproportionate assets case against former CM Parkash Singh Badal which was filed by the Congress government,” said the leader who did not wish to be named.

The appointment of A.P.S Deol, meanwhile, was necessitated by the exit of Atul Nanda. Nanda resigned as advocate general in September 2021, after Captain Amarinder Singh stepped down as CM.

Amarinder Singh had handpicked Nanda, by then a senior advocate in the Supreme Court, as Punjab’s advocate general upon coming to power in the state in 2017. Nanda had also defended Amarinder in a number of criminal cases filed against him during the Parkash Singh Badal-led Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP government between 2007 and 2017.

It was on Nanda’s watch that the state government reportedly suffered legal setbacks in its handling of the 2015 sacrilege and police firing cases, which are a hot potato in Punjab’s political circles.

For this, Nanda was criticised by several senior leaders within the then ruling Congress, including ministers in Amarinder Singh’s cabinet. Both Navjot Singh Sidhu and Partap Singh Bajwa, who is currently the Leader of Opposition in the Punjab assembly, had called for Nanda’s dismissal, accusing him of failing to secure the government’s interests in critical legal battles.

(Edited by Amrtansh Arora)

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