Discord in Puducherry

This round of conflict between Puducherry Chief Minister V. Narayanasamy and Lt. Governor Kiran Bedi has been more serious than those in the past. Mr. Narayanasamy sat in protest for six days, before the two could meet to hold talks to resolve a set of issues he raised in a letter earlier this month. He has been opposing what he calls Ms. Bedi’s “high-handedness” and tendency to interfere in the administration. The two have had differences on many issues over the last two years. Such problems are an obvious consequence of the political structure of Union Territories, in which the Administrator, as the nominee of the President, enjoys powers superior to the Chief Minister and the Council of Ministers. The trigger for the latest stand-off seems to have been Ms. Bedi’s move to enforce the rule for two-wheeler riders to wear helmets. While the Chief Minister believes it can be enforced only after raising awareness, Ms. Bedi wants it implemented immediately. However, the Chief Minister insists that his protest has nothing to do with this. He lists the blocking of welfare schemes such as the free rice scheme and enhanced scholarship for Scheduled Caste students, among other actions of the L-G, as the real issues. Whatever be the origin of this conflict, the sight of a Chief Minister on an indefinite dharna is not seemly. It could not have gone on indefinitely, and the fact that a dialogue was formally initiated, albeit after much delay, is a welcome development.

Central to the conflict is the question whether Ms. Bedi is acting within her powers or exceeding her brief in seeking to play a proactive role in the affairs of the Union Territory. Under the Constitution, the territory belongs to the President, who runs it through the L-G as Administrator. However, under Section 44 of the Union Territories Act, 1963, the Administrator has to act on the ‘aid and advice’ of the Council of Ministers. At the same time, any difference of opinion between them can be referred to the President, and in the meantime the Administrator’s action prevails on any urgent matter. This scheme, which gives a clear edge to the Centre, can work only if there is harmony between the Council and the L-G. It would be unfortunate if individuals occupying Raj Nivas in any Union Territory with a Legislative Assembly get carried away and ignore or undermine the elected body. Last year, ruling on the limits of the L-G’s powers in Delhi, the Supreme Court stressed the need for the L-G as well as people’s representatives to “function in harmony within constitutional parameters”. The L-G was cautioned against having a hostile attitude towards the Ministers. There is no reason why that principle cannot be extended to Puducherry, which has a longer record of elected governments.


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Printable version | Jan 18, 2022 1:21:28 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/discord-in-puducherry/article26305914.ece

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