The ‘Chandigarh question’

  • IASbaba
  • April 4, 2022
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  • GS-2: Federalism & its challenges

The ‘Chandigarh question’

Context: The newly elected Punjab Legislative Assembly passed a resolution, moved by the Chief Minister himself, on April 1 in a special session seeking the transfer of Chandigarh to Punjab. With this, the ‘Chandigarh question’ has resurfaced, but this time it occupies the national spotlight.

How did Chandigarh come to its current status?

  • Chandigarh, described as a ‘planned city’ emblematic of ‘Nehruvian modernity’, is a greenfield city, which was commissioned by the government in independent India to replace Lahore, which went to Pakistan after Partition, as the capital of of Punjab. 
  • Designed by Le Corbusier in association with Pierre Jeanneret, it is located on the foothills of the Shivalik Himalayas on village land acquired from what was then the Kharar tehsil of Ambala district. 
  • It was the capital of undivided Punjab from its inauguration in 1953 till 1966. 
  • Under the Punjab Reorganisation Act, 1966 following the Punjabi Suba movement, Haryana was carved out of the Hindi-speaking regions as a separate State while the hill regions of Punjab were merged with what was then the Union Territory (UT) of Himachal Pradesh. 
  • Chandigarh was made a UT and has remained the joint capital of Haryana and Punjab with State assets divided between Punjab and Haryana in the ratio of 60:40.
  • Since 1966, the lack of full rights to its capital has remained a vexed issue in Punjab politics. 
  • All the governments and most political parties of Punjab have regularly raised the demand for Chandigarh
    • It has featured in all major developments, whether it is the 1973 Anandpur Sahib resolution, Dharam Yudh Morcha (of Akali Dal with J.S. Bhindranwale) and the 1985 Rajiv-Longowal Accord. 
  • Since 1966, the Punjab Assembly has passed at least six such resolutions with the last being in 2014 under the Shiromani Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party (SAD-BJP) government. 

What is different this time?

The immediate provocation this time has been two recent decisions of the Central government, both taken in the aftermath of SAD breaking ties with the BJP over the now withdrawn farm laws. 

  • In February, the Centre amended the rules governing the functioning of the Bhakra Beas Management Board (BBMB), constituted under the 1966 Act, changing the eligibility criteria for the two full-time members of the Board.
    • These board positions though technically open to all Indian officials, by convention gone to officials from Punjab and Haryana. Now, officers from the two States may not be able to meet the new eligibility criteria given the technical qualifications specified. 
  • Second, the Centre issued a notification bringing Chandigarh UT administration employees under the Central Services Rules with effect from April 1, 2022 replacing the Punjab Services Rules. This was considered as an affront to Punjab’s claim over Chandigarh.

What has been the position of the Union government on the city?

  • At the time of the 1966 Act, the Union government with Indira Gandhi as Prime Minister indicated that the UT status to Chandigarh was temporary and that it would be transferred to Punjab. 
  • This decision was formalised in 1970 with Mrs Gandhi promising Haryana funds for building its own capital. 
  • According to the 1985 Rajiv-Longowal Accord (to deal with Punjab growing militancy problem) , Chandigarh was to be handed over to Punjab on January 26, 1986 but this never fructified after the assassination of Longowal and the long period of militancy till the mid-1990s. 
  • The recent developments could thus indicate a shift in the Central government’s position.

Is there a distinctive Chandigarh position?

  • Employees and unions of the Chandigarh administration have mostly welcomed the change in service rules since the Central provisions carry more benefits, especially on retirement age and other allowances, though pay scale-wise Punjab rules are considered better. 
  • After decades of existence as a UT, Chandigarh has developed a distinctive cultural character. 
  • Given its geographical location at the intersection of three States, as well as the presence of many educational institutions, medical establishments and the Army and Air Force, Chandigarh has developed a unique cosmopolitanism and become a magnet for the youth across the north western region. City residents thus favour the status quo. 
  • The Chandigarh units of political parties, in contrast with their Punjab party units have time and again reiterated retention of the status quo.

What about Haryana?

  • As in Punjab, all parties in Haryana present a common position asserting the latter’s claim to the city and have objected to any move which associates Chandigarh solely with Punjab. 
  • The International Airport which comprises territory from both the UT and Mohali city of Punjab was inaugurated in 2015 but remains nameless as Haryana has objected to the inclusion of Mohali in the name claiming that Haryana has a 50% stake in the airport. 
  • Haryana had also objected to the name ‘New Chandigarh’ for a township developed in the Mullanpur area adjoining Chandigarh in Punjab. 

Connecting the dots:

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