Perhaps the best thing that has enabled Chandigarh to serve efficiently as the joint capital of Punjab and Haryana for more than four decades is its unique formula of being Centrally administered and funded, with no interference from either State in its running and upkeep. On the flip side, the political cost of this experiment has been immense, paid by the people of Punjab with lives lost in conflict over the still unresolved territorial dispute.

After the reorganisation of states, Punjab was divided into Haryana, Punjab and Himachal Pradesh, and both states claimed the brand new designer city of Chandigarh as capital. Pending resolution of the dispute, Chandigarh was made a Union Territory, administered by the Central government. The iconic buildings of the city designed by the famous Swiss-born architect Le Corbusier as the capital had to be shared by the two States. The civil secretariat is divided between the bureaucratic machinery of both States, and the problem of separate legislatures was resolved with the space meant for the Upper House in the Assembly building given to Haryana.

Mini secretariats

Over the years, as more space was needed, both States opened mini- secretariats in different parts of the town. The Chandigarh administration draws its strength of officers in the 60:40 ratio from Punjab and Haryana, with the top post of Adviser to the UT Administrator-cum-Punjab Governor reserved for an officer of the UT cadre.

The two States also developed the satellite townships of Panchkula in Haryana and Mohali in Punjab where many government buildings of both States have come up. The problem, though, is with a common High Court which was initially designed for only eight judges and one Chief Justice. It was later expanded by Corbusier to house 16 judges, but the problem of overcrowding has led Haryana to demand a separate High Court for itself. The problem is that there is no space in the heritage zone for another High Court, and a committee appointed by the Centre is tasked with suggesting ways of providing for the vast increase in lawyers, litigants and judges. Rajnish Wattas, a member of the committee points out, “Both Punjab and Haryana have cast a serpentine coil around this iconic city, that is not only disturbing the architectural sanctity of its buildings but also playing havoc with its periphery which has developed in a chaotic manner only because it bears the load of two capitals.”

But more serious than the overload of government paraphernalia is the emergence of a third party in the Punjab and Haryana dispute in the form of the citizens of Chandigarh. Says Pramod Kumar, Director of the Institute of Development and Communications: “Seen against the Chandigarh experience, the proposal to make Hyderabad a joint capital for 10 years is fodder for emergence of another identity conflict. The third party in the dispute develops a vested interest in the status quo and becomes a hurdle in resolution.” He also feels that not having its own capital stymied the growth of business in Punjab. “It has missed out on the IT revolution but is unable to have a capital of its own because of the dispute.”

A couple of months ago, Punjab floated the idea of developing a new township called New Chandigarh adjoining the existing town. This was hotly opposed by Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, who said it was unethical to do so, as Chandigarh is a brand name over which Punjab does not have exclusive rights. Four decades on, the slugfest continues. The lesson: leaving a lingering dispute unresolved will never make it vanish. It only enhances the potential for it to become the flashpoint for violent resolution.

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