The center’s decision to appoint an independent administrator for Chandigarh saw political parties up in arms as they demanded control be restored with Raj Bhavan
By Vipin Pubby in Chandigarh
It’s been half-a-century since the Punjab Reorganisation Act, 1966, was enacted to provide for the reorganization of a composite Punjab. This led to the formation of Haryana and the Union Territory of Chandigarh, but the issues emerging out of it continue to hang in balance. With Punjab heading towards assembly elections in the next six months, the center’s decision last month to appoint an independent administrator for Chandigarh kicked up an unanticipated row—a veritable storm in a tea cup.
To put the row in perspective requires a rewind. Under the Punjab Reorganisation of Act, 1966, Punjab was to retain Chandigarh and Haryana was supposed to develop its own capital with partial financial assistance from the center. However, for the interim period, Chandigarh was to remain the joint capital of both the states.
Since this dual status might lead to administrative problems between the two states, it was decided to give Chandigarh the status of a Union Territory (UT) to be administered by an administrator to be appointed by the central government. It was also decided that government buildings and offices in Chandigarh would be divided between Punjab and Haryana in the ratio of 60:40. Besides, the top officer from the UT pool of IAS, the other officers in the UT Administration were to be taken from the two states in the same ratio.
The arrangement had been working more or less smoothly for the last 50 years even though there were pushes and pulls by the two states on posts to which officers from the respective states were to be deployed. The Act provided that “from the appointed day, there shall be formed a new Union territory to be known as the Union territory of Chandigarh comprising such of the territories of Manimajra and Manauli Kanungo circles of Kharar tahsil of Ambala district in the existing State of Punjab as are specified in the Second Schedule and thereupon the territories so specified shall cease to form part of the existing State of Punjab”.
It specified that the UT was to be governed by an administrator. The post was simply defined as “administrator of a Union territory appointed by the President under article 239 of the Constitution.” There was thus no provision that the administrator was to be the Punjab governor as has been sought to be claimed by Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal.
The arrangement of the center appointing an administrator for Chandigarh, designated the chief commissioner and directly reporting to the Union home ministry, carried on smoothly till 1984. That was the period when militancy in Punjab had peaked.
The arrangement of the center appointing an administrator, designated the chief commissioner and directly reporting to the Union home ministry, carried on smoothly till 1984. That was the period when militancy in Punjab had peaked and there was hardly a day when violence was not reported from the state. Under those special circumstances, it was decided that the governor of Punjab be given additional charge of the administrator of the UT. This was mainly aimed at seamless operations by security forces.
The practice, however, continued even after the restoration of normalcy as most Punjab governors also preferred to rule over Chandigarh. But the old arrangement was sought to be restored when the center announced the appointment of KJ Alphons in mid-August.
A few days before Operation Bluestar commenced on June 6, 1984, an executive order was passed to appoint the Punjab governor as the administrator of Chandigarh. The then Chief Commissioner, K Banarji, a UT cadre officer, was re-designated as advisor to the administrator. The additional charge given to the Punjab governor was therefore supposed to be a temporary measure. It had nothing to do with Punjab’s claim over Chandigarh which, in any case, no one was disputing.
The practice, however, continued even after the restoration of normalcy as most Punjab governors also preferred to rule over Chandigarh. But the old arrangement was sought to be restored when the center announced the appointment of a former bureaucrat and Kerala BJP leader, KJ Alphons, as administrator of UT Chandigarh in mid-August.
This became an issue with Punjab preparing to go for elections. The opposition Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party jumped in to gain political mileage by alleging that Punjab’s claim over Chandigarh was being “diluted” by the central government. They pressed their point by stressing that this was being done by the BJP-led government in which the Shiromani Akali Dal was an ally. Badal had little choice but to approach the union home minister to rescind the order. He also came out with a statement that his government would not allow any “dilution” of Punjab’s claim over Chandigarh.
The opposition Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party alleged that Punjab’s claim over Chandigarh was being “diluted” by the central government. Later even the ruling SAD government opposed the move in the light of impending elections.
By that time, Alphons, who had helped the BJP to get a toe-hold in Kerala, was busy giving interviews to media and planning his priorities in Chandigarh. He revealed to journalists that he had been personally informed about his appointment by Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh.
However, given the strong protest from Badal and with elections staring in the face, the center thought it prudent to cancel Alphons’ appointment and the decision was conveyed to him by BJP president Amit Shah. Thus, the additional charge given to the Punjab governor in 1984 on a temporary basis was revived because the appointment of an administrator had been given a political tinge and could have been “exploited” by opposition parties in the election campaign.
The issue of reverting to the system of chief commissioner or an independent administrator governing Chandigarh may not have become such a hot issue had the elections not been due. It is also a fact that most residents of Chandigarh would have preferred an independent and easily accessible administrator who could have also have focused on the development of Chandigarh where the Capitol Complex was recently given the prestigious UNESCO World Heritage status.
But with elections round the corner, the voice of the politicians and not the people, was heard.
Lead picture: Punjab Governor VP Singh Badnore (photo: UNI); The Capitol Complex in Chandigarh showcases the architecture designed by Le Corbusier