Topic: General Studies 2:
- Functions and responsibilities of the Union and the States
- Issues and challenges pertaining to the federal structure
Power tussle in Puducherry: Between Lt. Governor and Chief Minister
Context: The recent three-day-long protest, led by Puducherry Chief Minister V. Narayanasamy, under the banner of the Secular Democratic Progressive Alliance, against Lieutenant Governor Kiran Bedi.
Why is CM of Puducherry protesting against Lt. Governor?
- Interference in Day-to-day affairs: The ruling alliance has accused the lieutenant governor of interfering in the day-to-day affairs of the government and impeding its development plans.
- Appointment to State Election Commission: They have been at loggerheads over many matters, most recently on the appointment of the State Election Commissioner, an office critical to holding elections to local bodies in the Union Territory.
- Implementation Mode of Welfare Scheme: The council of Ministers headed by CM prefers to distribute rice, clothes and other freebies to the beneficiaries through fair price shops and other government agencies. While Lt. Governor Bedi insists on the DBT mode for implementing government welfare schemes.
- Democratic Participation: The police asked the director of higher and technical education to issue an advisory to all students to refrain from participating in the protest against the lieutenant governor. Earlier police allegedly used force to disperse students taking part in a protest organised by the Congress, demanding that the Centre sanction 10% reservation for government school students in MBBS course.
- Demand of the Agitation: The agitation was meant to highlight the demand of the Congress and its allies for the recall of the Lt Governor. The elected government accuse Lt. Governor Ms. Kiran Bedi of “functioning in an autocratic manner” and adopting an “obstructionist attitude” in ensuring the progress and welfare of people.
What is the argument by Lt. Governor?
On her part, Ms. Bedi has advised CM to refrain from misleading the public about the Centre and her office. She has even attributed his “anguish and disappointment” possibly to the “diligent and sustained care” exercised by the Lt Governor’s secretariat “in ensuring just, fair and accessible administration following the laws and rules of business scrupulously”.
Previous instances of Power Tussle between CM and Lt. Governor
- Nominated Members in Legislative Assembly: In July 2017, members of the Congress protested against the induction of three nominated members of the BJP into the Assembly by the Centre without the approval of the chief minister.
- Governance & Policy Making: In 2018, Lt. Governor Bedi announced that the government’s free rice distribution scheme to villagers would be made conditional to the certification that the village is free from open defecation, garbage and plastic. The CM claimed Bedi’s move was against the NFSA, 2013 and that the lieutenant governor cannot issue an order and implement it without his consultation
- Public Sector Undertakings: In 2019, a similar protest was staged by the CM demanding reopening of closed industrial units and public sector undertakings.
- New Year Celebration amidst Pandemic: On December 31, 2020, Bedi objected to the government’s move to allow New Year celebrations in view of the pandemic and urged the government to ban it. However, CM was firm on his decision and said no one had the power or authority to ban New Year celebrations, adding that the UT is linked intrinsically with French culture and has a separate identity.
Critical Analysis of the ongoing protest
- Political reasons: With the Assembly election likely in April or May, CM leading the protest against the Lt Governor can be an act of political mobilisation and seems to be his strategy to ward off any criticism against his government’s “non-functioning” by laying the blame at the doorstep of the Lt Governor.
- LG can be Accommodative: The Centre itself did not see any great virtue in the DBT mode when it decided to give additional food grains (rice or wheat) free of cost at five kg per person a month to ration cardholders during April-November 2020 as a relief measure during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Common Man Impacted: The power tussle between LG and CM slows down the daily administrative activities whereby the public will have to bear the cost of not getting proper services which he is entitled to.
- Need for Centre’s Intervention: With the near breakdown of communication between the Lt Governor and the Chief Minister, the Centre should step in, in the interest of smooth administration.
What are the powers of LG of Puducherry?
- Government of Union Territories Act, 1963 provides for a Legislative Assembly of Pondicherry, with a Council of Ministers to govern the “Union Territory of Pondicherry”. It states that the UT will be administered by the President of India through an Administrator (LG). It also has following provisions.
- Extent of legislative power – MLAs “may make laws for the whole or any part of the Union Territory with respect to any of the matters enumerated in the State List or the Concurrent List”.
- Council of Ministers – The Council of Ministers headed by a Chief Minister will “aid and advise the Administrator in the exercise of his functions in relation to matters with respect to which the Legislative Assembly of the Union Territory has power to make laws”.
- Discretion of LG: Section 44 of the Union Territories Act, 1963, allows the LG to “act in his discretion” in the matter of law-making, even though the Council of Ministers has the task of aiding and advising him.
- In case of a difference of opinion between the LG and his Ministers on any matter, the Administrator is bound to refer it to the President for a decision and act according to the decision given by the President.
- However, the Administrator can also claim that the matter is urgent, and take immediate action as he deems necessary.
- Relation with CoM: The manner in which the LG functions vis-à-vis the elected government (Council of Ministers) is also spelt out in the Rules of Business of the Government of Pondicherry, 1963, issued on June 22, 1963.
- The Administrator exercises powers regulating the conditions of service of persons serving in the UT government, in consultation with the Chief Minister.
- In case the LG has a difference of opinion with the Chief Minister, he can refer the matter to the central government for the decision of the President.
- Both Delhi and Puducherry has an elected legislature and government but the powers of the LG of Puducherry are different from the ones of the LG of Delhi.
- The LG of Delhi has “Executive Functions” that allow him to exercise his powers in matters connected to public order, police and land “in consultation with the Chief Minister, if it is so provided under any order issued by the President under Article 239 of the Constitution”.
- While the LG of Delhi is also guided by the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi Act, 1991, and the Transaction of Business of the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi Rules, 1993, the LG of Puducherry is guided mostly by the Government of Union Territories Act, 1963.
- Articles 239 and 239AA of the Constitution, as well as the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi Act, 1991, clearly underline that Delhi is a UT, where the Centre, whose eyes and ears are the LG, has a much more prominent role than in Puducherry.
- Under the constitutional scheme, the Delhi Assembly has the power to legislate on all subjects except law and order and land.
- However, the Puducherry Assembly can legislate on any issue under the Concurrent and State Lists. If the law is in conflict with a law passed by Parliament, the law passed by Parliament prevails.
- Simply put, the LG of Delhi enjoys greater powers than the LG of Puducherry.