‘A landmark judgment’

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V. Narayanasamy, Chief Minister of Puducherry. Photo: S.S. Kumar

Interview with V. Narayanasamy, Chief Minister of Puducherry.

CHIEF Minister V. Narayanasamy received a shot in the arm with the Supreme Court ruling on the National Capital Territory (NCT) issue—after a setback at the Madras High Court, which held that the action of the Lieutenant Governor (L.G.) in appointing three nominated MLAs was within the ambit of her powers. Narayanasamy wasted no time in reminding the L.G. of her powers, though the L.G. has told the press that the Supreme Court ruling is applicable only to the NCT, and does not make any difference to her status in Puducherry. Narayanasamy spoke to Frontline at length on the issue. Excerpts from the interview:

Does the Supreme Court order in the NCT case mean anything to Puducherry? At a practical level, what is happening in this Union Territory and what should ideally be happening here?

It is a landmark judgment. For a long time this issue was not settled, the question of powers of the elected government versus the administrator. The administrators were thinking that they were all-powerful.

As far as Delhi is concerned, since it is the capital city, certain powers to that State have been curtailed, such as land, law and order and police. First of all, the fundamental thing is when the Constitution Bench decides on a certain principle, it is applicable to all States. It is not only for a particular State because they are framing the broad policy on the basis of the constitutional frame of things. They said that the will of the people is to be enforced by the elected government. Second, the administrators of Puducherry and Delhi are only figureheads. Thirdly, they should not hinder the running of the administration in these two places.

Cabinet decision, they cannot touch. Moreover, they have no independent authority or power. There is one provision which is peculiar to Puducherry and Delhi. Whenever there is a difference of opinion, it is to be referred to the Government of India. That is, the President. Referring the matter to the Honourable President should be on sound principles. It cannot be on a trivial matter—if I transfer one officer from here to there; it cannot be sent. There are policy issues such as internal security, law and order, disputes relating to two communities, and protection of Dalits—these are areas in which when a new policy is being made and if there is a difference of opinion, it can be sent. Not on routine work.

Look at Justice Chandrachud’s words. He said on trivial matters it cannot be sent because it will lead to long delays in getting administrative work done. They [L.G.s] are representatives of the President. They have to act on the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers. They cannot interfere in the day-to-day administration. These things are very clear in the judgment.

Now that the Supreme Court has made it clear that a Cabinet is free to take decisions, and those decisions only need to be communicated to the Lieutenant Governor, does it make any difference to the manner of functioning of the Puducherry government and administration?

Puducherry is a small territory. We are meeting hundreds of people every day. The MLAs are doing the job of Councillors here. For instance, if there is a water shortage issue, drainage problem, power supply issue, or supply of rations, people approach their MLA. The Councillors also supplement that work. They know the pulse of the people. The people have tested everybody and elected them. The day-to-day administration is to be done by the Minister concerned. There is a hierarchy in that. We have officers at the ground level, we have officers at the middle level, then directors, then secretaries, the Chief Secretary, Ministers and the Chief Minister. Ours being a small territory, we know the demands of the people. If we don’t deliver within five years, people will throw us out. That is the power of the people.

What the L.G. is doing is very unfortunate as far as Puducherry is concerned. Going and cleaning a place, a lower level government servant can do that. If he does not do, the MLA goes there and he gets the work done. She [Kiran Bedi] conducted more than 20 meetings for the purpose of preservation of water. On the other hand, when the government wanted to desilt the ponds, she blocked it.

Take the case of the free dhoti and saree scheme for the poor. The tender was floated, the sample was seen and tested, the price was fixed, and the highest bidder was selected. Then the order has to be given. If the amount goes beyond Rs.10 crore, then the approval of the administrator is required. When the file goes to her, she sends it back raising queries for which answers are available in the file itself. Then she also puts a peculiar question, “Next year what is the budget?” All this is the job of the officers. Our job is to see if everything is in order and is transparent. When I came to power, my primary focus was to offer a corruption-free government and maintain law and order.

Let me ask you this: In the past two years, what has been her contribution to bringing funds from the Government of India? What is her contribution in supporting government schemes? My Ministers and I worked hard to get various projects, such as the Smart City Project, drinking water project, the SagarMala project, tourism scheme, flight services, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and many more.

I simply feel she is ignorant of administrative rules governing her office and she is misled by some vested interests. In fact, I went and met her with my Cabinet colleagues and explained to her the powers, and that we should work in coordination. She said that she would consider. Then I went a second time. But she said that she knew everything.

If you read the Constitution, it is very clear that the President shall bring regulation for peace, progress and good governance of Puducherry when there is no Assembly. When the Assembly comes into being, the President shall cease to have powers in these three subjects. This covers the whole gamut of administration. Without knowing this, a lot of people are arguing.

What is the fate of the three nominated MLAs post this judgment, and what is the fate of officers caught between a Chief Minister who knows his way around in New Delhi and an L.G. who is an appointee of the Central government?

As far as the nominated MLAs are concerned, the Madras High Court ruled that the honourable Speaker had no authority to not allow the MLAs to function. In the Tamil Nadu case, the Chief Justice of the Madras High Court said that the Speaker had all the powers. This itself is a contradiction. We have preferred to appeal in the Supreme Court in the nominated MLAs case.

And the officers caught between you and the L.G.? In the case of Delhi, the officers are unwilling to work with Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal.

Why are you comparing me and Kejriwal? The officers are, by and large, very good people. Otherwise the government would have come to a grinding halt because of the activity of the L.G. But I take the officers into confidence, I consult them and have review meetings. The officers are cooperating with the government. Officers alone are not the reason why some schemes are being delayed. The Lieutenant Governor is responsible for that. She keeps asking queries on many files even when replies are there in the same files.

If the L.G. tries to issue directions to the officers, I will not tolerate. When she calls officers for review meetings, I cannot allow it to happen. Otherwise, there is no point in having a Chief Minister. I will protest. I have written to her on the issue. This is the 20th letter I have written.

Actually, I was expecting that the L.G. would change her style of functioning after the judgment. But it has not happened. Our Parliamentary Secretary to the Chief Minister, Lakshmi Narayanan, has already filed a petition in the Madras High Court on the acts of commission and omission of the L.G. When the case was taken up, the NCT case was being heard in New Delhi. So, the judges in Madras High Court said, “Let that case get over, then we will take this up.” The case is over and the matter is being taken up, and I am confident that a decision will be arrived at in line with the Supreme Court judgment.

Are you taking action against officers for meeting the L.G.?

See what the rule says. There is a very clear rule which says that whenever the L.G. has any doubt on the file, she can only summon the Secretary to the Government. The Secretary necessarily has to consult the Minister before he meets the L.G.

Ministers can be called [by the L.G.] for an informal chat, but she cannot direct the Minister to come and meet her. She can formally or informally request the Minister to come. If she summons a Minister, I will be the first person to oppose that.

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