AWAY from the media glare of Arvind Kejriwal’s Delhi, a battle as big and vicious as the ones around the Delhi Chief Minister rages between the elected Chief Minister of the Union Territory of Puducherry, V. Narayanasamy, and the Central government’s agent, Lieutenant Governor Kiran Bedi.
Caught in between the two are bureaucrats, the police, politicians and political parties. There have been “for Bedi” and “anti-Bedi” meetings and rallies by a clutch of political parties, and the drama has dominated, even trumped, ratings of soaps in the evening prime time shows on local television channels.
Even as a drought of unprecedented proportions makes life difficult for citizens of the Union Territory spread across three States, the lack of cooperation between the elected government and the Lieutenant Governor means that essential files are held up at various levels, affecting governance and delivery of services.
At the heart of the whole issue is the interpretation of Articles 239 (Administration of Union Territories), 239 A (Creation of Legislatures) and 240 (Powers of the President to make regulations for Union Territories) of the Indian Constitution. While it is clear that 239 and 239A give wide-ranging powers to the “administrator” nominated by the President, provisions under Article 240 make it clear that many of these powers will cease as soon as an elected legislature is in place in the Union Territory.
Durga Das Basu’s Shorter Constitution of India , (14th edition, 2008), says: “Under Art. 239, the President occupies, in regard to Union Territories, a position analogous to that of a Governor in a State.” The Lieutenant Governor, therefore, is not equivalent to a Governor. He or she is a person who acts as the “eyes and ears” of the President in the Union Territory.
The Amendment to Article 240 is the key to understanding the issue. “The Proviso, inserted by the 14th Amendment Act of 1962, is a sequel to Art. 239 A. Since that Article envisaged the setting up of Legislatures for some of the [Union] Territories, it was provided that the President’s legislative power to make regulations ceases after such Legislatures for these Union Territories are created, but may continue until then.”
In an elaborate conversation that this correspondent had with Dr Kiran Bedi, it was clear that she was of the view that administratively, there was no difference between Delhi and Puducherry, and hence, all matters of policy had to necessarily have her sanction in Puducherry. But Delhi’s National Capital Region is governed by a completely different provision in the Indian Constitution, Article 239 AA, which was inserted by the Constitution (69th Amendment) Act, 1991, and was effective from February 1, 1992. The one common difference that is widely recognised is with respect to police powers: while Delhi’s police report to the Union Home Ministry and not to the Delhi government, the police in Puducherry are controlled by the Puducherry government.
Adding ammunition to Kiran Bedi’s point of view is a five-page “clarification” issued by the Union Home Ministry on January 27, 2017. Signed by Satish Kumar Singh, Under Secretary to the government of India, it says that “the law which occupies the field for Puducherry is the Government of Union Territories Act, 1963”.
Relying on these rules, the Under Secretary concludes that “from a conjoint reading of the above rules, it is clear that the Administrator is to play an integral role in the policymaking as well as the day-to-day affairs of the Union Territory of Puducherry. The fact that the Administrator can call for papers from the Secretary of a Department makes it abundantly clear that the Administrator has the right to interact with the officers and while doing so is discharging his responsibility as the Administrator…. It is pertinent to note that even the office of Chief Minister is obligated to furnish information to the Administrator in certain situations….”
Narayanasamy asked how an interpretation of rules could replace constitutional provisions. Asked about the January 27 clarification, he said that he had written to the Union Home Ministry on this issue. “I have raised specific issues relating to the January 27 interpretation of the Home Ministry. About four months have gone by. I am yet to receive any response,” he told Frontline .
The wide publicity given to the January 27 clarification did not mean that Kiran Bedi was back on top in the battle to establish who was superior in the Union Territory. Even the Chief Secretary took the clarification lightly, leading Kiran Bedi to write a formal letter of complaint to Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh. “…[T]he Chief Secretary does not send any report on references made by me,” she wrote to him on April 15, 2017. “Chief Secretary has informed me that only Ministers are accountable for the departments under their charge,” she added. She has also publicly lashed out against the Chief Secretary, according to media reports.
None of this has had any effect on Chief Secretary Manoj Kumar Parida, a 1986 batch Indian Administrative Service officer from the Union Territory cadre. In a note written on April 12, he made it clear that all issues raised by the Lieutenant Governor were being addressed but there was no need to replicate the documentation: “As regards weekly report on major decisions taken during the week, the Additional Secretary has been submitting the report to Raj Nivas. In a small administration like Puducherry where Secretaries meet the Ministers two to three times every day, there is no justification to waste time, energy or paper on sending weekly reports on action taken.”
Not willing to give up, Kiran Bedi has written to the Chief Secretary asking him, among other things, to join in her weekend morning rounds. In one such email, she notes: “I am constrained to express my concern on your not joining in the weekend joint swachch/sanitation rounds to do on-the-ground stocktaking to resolve years-old sanitation issues, some with serious hazardous implications, despite my repeated personal request to you…. I do hope you respect the spirit behind this ‘extra mile approach’ of leadership, or the ‘shramdaan’ approach which is being persistently desired by our Honourable Prime Minister. We owe a compliance to PM’s directions.”
With Narayanasamy fully behind the officers, they have nothing much to worry about. “Even in Government of India, the President does not send newspaper cuttings asking for action taken report,” the Chief Minister noted in a reply to the Lieutenant Governor. Agreeing with the Chief Secretary’s view on the manner of briefing the current occupant of Raj Nivas, he noted: “As regards explanation for non-response, it is the Chief Minister who is the controlling officer of the Chief Secretary and Secretaries. Explanation can only be called for by the Ministry of Home Affairs which is the disciplinary authority for all IAS officers. Hon’ble Lt Governor is informed not to get into day-to-day administration of the government and allow the elected government to decide its priorities. I have advised Chief Secretary and other Secretaries to only respond to such communications which are routed through or brought before the Chief Minister.”
In a trip to Delhi, Kiran Bedi called on Rajnath Singh to apprise him of the issues in Puducherry. She even tweeted about it on May 2: “Called on Hble UHM @rajnathsingh Apprised him of constraints and challenges being encountered in serving Puducherry.”
Since any battle needs allies, Kiran Bedi is not shy of seeking them. On April 25, a seemingly innocuous tweet said that she had banned meat in Raj Nivas. But it had a small twist: “RajNivas Puducherry has already done. PETA urges Modi to ban meat from being served at govt events.”
After Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the gigantic bust of Siva in Jaggi Vasudev’s ashram in Coimbatore in February, he was invited for a talk at Raj Nivas. Kiran Bedi’s tweet of April 18 read: “Here’s d videoclip of @SadhguruJV at RajNivas, Puducherry. An audience across segments of society. An event 1st of its kind.”
Narayanasamy also has friends in New Delhi. Having been one of the main floor managers for the Congress party in Parliament in an era when the Left parties were calling the shots, from 2004 to 2009, Narayanasamy is well known and well regarded in New Delhi. From 2009 to 2014, even as UPA-2 was imploding, he was a Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office. During this stint too, he came out looking good, even if his boss, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, took a lot of flak. That, in essence, is Narayanasamy.