Governors bypassing elected governments

Parallel power

Print edition :

Kiran Bedi taking a video of garbage piled up near Thengaithittu fishing harbour while riding pillion. Photo: T. Singaravelou

The Supreme Court ruling curtailing the powers of the Lieutenant Governor has done little to stop Kiran Bedi from being a law unto herself and interfering in the day-to-day functioning of the government of Puducherry.

The Supreme Court order on the status of the National Capital Territory (NCT) has had no effect on former IPS officer and Lieutenant Governor (L.G.) of Puducherry Kiran Bedi, who runs a parallel administration in Puducherry bypassing the elected government.

On July 8, for instance, Kiran Bedi was in Kalapet to study groundwater-related issues. According to The Hindu, one of the many decisions taken on the spot was to seek the help of the Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) to map the water level in the deep aquifer in the area. Kiran Bedi, who was the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) Chief Ministerial candidate in the 2015 NCT elections and lost badly, was at Kalapet because of concerns over groundwater.

Local politicians are not pleased. “If there is no water in an area, where will the people rush to make a complaint?” asked a local politician. “He or she will ask a councillor or the local MLA. Why is the L.G. interfering even in this?” he wondered.

Chief Minister V. Narayanasamy says there are many instances of Kiran Bedi interfering in the day-to-day administration of the government of Puducherry. “The Supreme Court in its judgment has categorically held that the Lieutenant Governor has to act as per the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers. This is applicable to Puducherry UT,” he said (see interview).

The Chief Minister says that he had tried to discuss the issue with the L.G. over the years, with little success. Finally, on July 7, he wrote a three-page letter telling her that she “cannot usurp the powers of the Minister in-charge of a department” and that she “has no powers to unilaterally intervene in the affairs of the government departments.”

The Chief Minister made it clear to the L.G. that she had no right to call for review meetings of government departments. “If you require any clarification on any file, you may call the Secretary concerned. When Secretaries are called for clarifications on any file, the Secretary concerned shall, in the first instance, bring the same to the notice of the Minister in-charge for inputs and advice. Only after factoring such inputs and advice, the Secretary concerned shall meet you [L.G.] for offering clarifications as may be required by you on files. While you have every right to visit any place, you cannot issue any order/direction on the spot to the officers for immediate implementation as it would be in violation of the provisions of ‘Rules of Business of Government of Puducherry, 1963’…Under no circumstances you have powers to unilaterally call meetings, issue directions to officers etc… The Hon’ble Supreme Court, in its judgment had categorically held that the Lieutenant Governor has not been entrusted with any independent decision making powers…”, the letter said.

In fact, the Chief Minister had even issued an order on May 8, 2018 (Standing Order No.1 of 2018), under the Rules of Business of Government of Puducherry, 1963 to make it clear who ran the government: “Any instruction (either written or oral) received either directly from the Lieutenant Governor or through the office of the Lieutenant Governor by the Chief Secretary, Secretaries or through any officer in Government of Puducherry on any matter (including follow-up actions on communications from the Central government), the same shall simultaneously be brought to the notice of the Chief Minister and the Minister in-charge for inputs and advice and any follow up shall only be taken after factoring such inputs and advice.” The order added: “The Chief Secretary shall submit a weekly compliance report on all the directions contained in the Standing Order on every first working day of a week… to the Chief Minister.”

With this unambiguous language, the Chief Minister ensured that officials did not get caught in the crossfire. Also, the politician-civil servant relationship in Puducherry is largely cordial, and does not see the kind of hostility as witnessed in New Delhi. “Here, no one shouts or screams at an official or staff. There is a way to get work done,” said a politician.

Swearing-in of BJP MLAs

It is very obvious that none of this stops Kiran Bedi from being a law unto herself. After all, it was Kiran Bedi who, throwing every democratic norm to the winds and acting as an agent of the BJP, who conducted a late-night swearing-in on July 4, 2017 for three MLAs—all nominated because they were either sympathetic to the BJP or were its office-bearers, and will not be able to win an election in Puducherry. Her explanation for the late-night swearing-in—that it would pose a law and order threat in Puducherry—was comical. This farce, which the Madras High Court found no discrepancy with at all, is now being challenged in the Supreme Court.

Asked for a response to the Supreme Court’s verdict via e-mail and text message, Kiran Bedi replied by e-mail: “It may please be appreciated that the Hon’ble Supreme Court’s verdict is available in black and white and speaks for itself. I would, however, state that as envisaged under Article 239A of the Constitution, Parliament enacted a law in the year 1963 to administer the Union Territories entitled ‘Government of Union Territories Act, 1963’. The duties and responsibilities of the Administrator are delineated under the said Act.

Lieutenant Governor Kiran Bedi with Chief Minister V.Narayanasamy at Raj Nivas, Puducherry, in January.   -  T. Singaravelou

“President of India framed the Rules of Business of Govt. of Puducherry, 1963 for carrying on the administration as envisaged under the Act. The Administrator is delegated with financial responsibilities by the President of India under Delegation of Financial Power Rules, 1972 and with administrative powers to regulate the conditions of service of persons serving in the UT Administration under Art 309 of the Constitution read with Puducherry Conditions of Service Rules, 1966.

“Whatever is required to be done to fulfil my obligations and responsibilities under the said statutes, I am carrying on to the best of my knowledge and ability with the sole intent of providing good governance while ensuring financial prudence. I understand that Parliamentary Secretary to Chief Minister has challenged before Hon’ble High Court of Madras the vires of the letters of Ministry of Home Affairs clarifying the role of Authorities in the administration of the UT of Puducherry. The matter is, as such, sub judice.”

Kiran Bedi was upset with the last paragraph of the Chief Minister’s letter addressed to her, which read: “I wish you take immediate corrective actions and change your undemocratic style of functioning forthwith. If you continue with your acts of daily interference in the day-to-day governance of Puducherry in a unilateral and illegal manner by calling meetings, issuing directions to officers, etc., in spite of the directions of Hon’ble Supreme Court, I will be constrained to take further action for your acts of contempt and scant respect for democratic norms.” Kiran Bedi thought these were “rude” and “impolite” to the “Constitutional office”. She was “already going to inform GoI of the language he [Narayanasamy] uses” and said that she had to “protect the dignity of the office”.

At no point in Puducherry’s past has the dignity of the office of the L.G. been called into question. “I have not seen this amount of tension and problems. Most of us did not even know of the existence of a government and an L.G.,” said a long-time resident of Puducherry.

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