A retired Indian Police Service (IPS) officer, Kiran Bedi is a hands-on person. In an interview that lasted nearly an hour, it was clear that she had a vision that was at variance with the one that the elected government had for Puducherry, one of the smallest and administratively challenging Union Territories of India. (It has administrative fragments across three States of southern India.) Kiran Bedi believes that she has not been posted to sit around as a titular head; she is the functional head of the Union Territory and will act, even if this means that the entire State machinery is at odds with her office. Excerpts from the interview:
You have had a long and distinguished service as an IPS officer. Then, you were the live wire of an agitation, and later led a party during an election. How is your current role different from all these other roles that you have performed? Does your long experience in all these spheres help you in your current role?
This role is constitutional with administrative and financial responsibilities. It is by and large self-monitored. Self-audited. Self-led. Self-directed. Hence [it] has a greater responsibility. It leaves me to myself to deal with sensitive and demanding issues. The buck stops with me. I am guided by the laws, rules and regulations. Or precedents, both good and bad. The onus is on me to choose and transform.
Also, the choice is with me to be populist or firm. Only when in doubt, I have the option to refer the matter to the government of India for guidance. There, options are available.
The office of the Governor and that of the Lieutenant Governor have often been in the news for the wrong reasons. In your assessment, how has your tenure here been so far, since you too have been in the news for your differences with the Union Territory government?
I personally think that there is an inherent conflict in the system of Union Territory management. On the one hand, we have an elected Assembly in Delhi and Puducherry; on the other hand, we have an appointed Administrator with laid-down executive and financial responsibilities. Both sides interpret laws and rules as they want to, even when the laws are explicit. The alignment of intention and purpose alone can keep it free of conflict. Therefore, where there is a deviation, conflict is bound to arise.
What is your vision for Puducherry? Where do the Centre, the elected government and the officials figure in this?
Puducherry is a very cohesive, small Union Territory. If there is an alignment in integrity of purpose, it can be a model Union Territory in all respects. Be it cleanliness, development, peace and security, and more. Provided there is the spirit of collaboration and not competition. For the Government of India, Puducherry is far away from Delhi. It expects the administration of Puducherry to sort out its matters. However, it remains the key provider and arbiter of a conflict.
What, in your assessment, does Puducherry lack? How can these shortcomings be set right?
Puducherry lacks nothing. It has everything in abundance. It has many things in abundance. It just needs a single-minded honest leadership with an honesty of purpose, both in the political and bureaucratic spheres. People want both to be upright, accessible and sensitive public leaderships.
There is an inherent tension between the Governor or Lieutenant Governor and the Chief Minister in any State where a party which opposes the one ruling at the Centre is in power. How has this played out in Puducherry?
The same way as it played out in Delhi. Because both have come from the same laws, rules, etc. There is bound to be conflict if the Union Territory has a functional Lieutenant Governor. It will work smoothly if the Administrator is merely an endorser or a ceremonial head.
There seem to be wide differences of opinion between the Chief Minister and the Lieutenant Governor. How can this end?
It can end with commonality of intentions only. If they expect the Lieutenant Governor to be a rubber stamp then there is no common ground. They once said to me, “Madam, Lieutenant Governor is expected to be only a ceremonial head.” I told them their expectation was wrong. I have clear-cut and written responsibilities as an Administrator and an Lieutenant Governor as laid down under the Law and the Business rules and I shall serve Puducherry accordingly.
Mine is a constitutional position. I report to the Honourable President of India. I am bound by the law and the rules. The Lieutenant Governor’s office enjoys no immunity. Hence, whatever I approve has to meet the standards of financial and administrative prudence. If I have no role, then why do files for all financial clearances, transfers and postings, disciplinary issues and policy approvals come to me? I have to apply my mind.
The Constitution and the Rules of Business being so clear on the separation of powers, where is the room for doubt at all?
In our case, on the issue of following the business rules when there was a conflict, we sent the matter to the government of India. On January 27, the government of India issued a legal clarification. But the same was dismissed by saying that it was mere interpretation. Now where do you go from here? Time is short. I have limited time. I have to take matters as they come, which I have been doing now for the last many months. On the day of my taking charge here, I informed my team that I would serve Puducherry for two years. Unless called out earlier, I will like to hand over on May 29, 2017.
The people of Puducherry have different concerns such as drinking water, transport hassles, etc. They are not really interested in this “LG vs CM” fight. How clued in are you on the needs of the people?
What else is being done? The Raj Nivas is an open house daily for two hours for people’s grievances. People come with total faith. And large numbers come daily. We are also personally overseeing a website and a WhatAapp number to ensure due response. I am personally overseeing it.
We as a team address all issues. At Raj Nivas we are taking the support of paralegals, family counsellors, senior police officers, senior officers of the administration, etc. Together, we hear every visitor every evening. And matters are addressed.
The Lieutenant Governor’s office is not a post office. Where we feel we have a deadlock, we check with the officer concerned or get the petitioner an appointment to be heard. We also identify the place to be visited on people’s request to deal with the long-standing matters requiring coordinated response.
This is what takes us, Team Raj Nivas, every weekend, at 6 a.m., to issues needing urgent attention. We have done over 77 morning rounds till now. Since taking over I have not missed any weekend morning to move out to address these issues.
These visits are driving the change and restoring faith in the administration. They also give us options for realistic solutions. Water, sanitation and safety have been my serious concerns, besides providing development support, ensuring equity and financial providence. This is through presentations and meetings with the officers concerned.
You draw a link between Delhi and Puducherry. But are not the provisions for Delhi and Puducherry different in that the elected government in Puducherry has slightly more powers?
The clarification letter which came from the Home Ministry exactly reiterated that…. But then it needs to be accepted/respected.