The relationship between the Uddhav Thackeray-led Mahavikas Aghadi and Raj Bhavan has been tense for a while but Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari’s proposal, that Raj Bhavan be made an independent establishment on the lines of the judiciary, has escalated matters further.
Here’s what the latest stand-off between the two sides is all about.
What does the Maharashtra Governor want?
On the lines of the Indian judiciary and the legislature, the Maharashtra Governor wants the administration of the Raj Bhavan to be under his control. In a letter addressed to Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, Governor Koshyari has basically proposed that Raj Bhavan be deemed to be an independent establishment with his office enjoying sole powers to decide on all matters related to appointments, transfers and other service-related matters of the staff deployed at the Raj Bhavan.
At present, an independent desk of the Chief Minister-led General Administration Department oversees all these matters. But Koshyari wants these powers to be shifted to Raj Bhavan itself. Almost immediately after Koshyari had assumed office last September, the previous BJP-led regime in the state had enhanced the Governor’s discretionary fund from Rs 15 lakh to Rs 5 crore.
What is the current established procedure?
Senior state bureaucrats have pointed out that even today, the state administration does not really thrust particular officers to the Raj Bhavan. Just like in other states, the Maharashtra Governor, as the figurative head of the state, has powers to choose his team of officers and staff. The established procedure is that when there is a staff requirement for the governor’s office, he is sent a list of eligible candidates from which he can choose. Normally, the Governor’s preference of the choice of candidates is honoured.
At present, the three Raj Bhavan premises in Maharashtra – one each in Mumbai, Pune and Nagpur – have a staff of just over 200 people. Barring one or two exceptions, almost all of them are on deputation from various cadres of the state administration. In many ways, the staff at Raj Bhavan are meant to serve as a bridge between the state administration and the Governor’s office.
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How has the Thackeray government responded to the Governor’s proposal?
The contentious proposal is the latest in a series of misgivings between the Raj Bhavan and the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi, with sources confirming that the Thackeray-led coalition is in no mood to give in. So far, Thackeray’s department has not responded to the proposal at all. It holds a view that the proposal is not in keeping with established recruitment rules. The government’s side was also quick to point out that even the Rashtrapati Bhavan is not an independent establishment.
While the Governor first wrote to Thackeray over the demand in March, the state administration has been sitting on the proposal. Senior bureaucrats also argue that while the judiciary and the legislative wing are independent arms in three-tier governance set up, the Raj Bhavan, essentially, is an extension of the government. Many of them hold the view that linking the current demand to the autonomy enjoyed by the judiciary and the legislature regarding appointments and transfers will not be appropriate. Senior political leaders and also some of the past Governors from Maharashtra seems to agree with this point of view.
What may have triggered the proposal?
There are two aspects. One being the Governor’s office is keen to hire specific officers from cadres of other states and other governments. According to sources, the GAD and the Governor’s office previously had some disagreements over the fixing of the pay scale and seniority of an officer on special duty who has been on deputation from the Centre. While this was resolved, another proposal demanding accommodation of some other officers from cadres from other states had caused a standoff, which may have eventually led to the Governor demanding that Raj Bhavan’s established be delinked from the GAD.
On the other hand, Raj Bhavan has maintained that the Governor’s proposal has more to do with the administrative delayed experienced while dealing with routine service and promotion matters of the Raj Bhavan staff. “Even for a routine pay scale matter, the file has to travel to the GAD, which often takes a while to be cleared,” a source said. But senior bureaucrats argue that such delays can be resolved through dialogue.
What are the implications?
For the time being, it has only escalated the standoff between the Raj Bhavan and the ruling coalition in Maharashtra. According to officials, a bigger implication will be seen in the unlikely event of the state government accepting the Governor’s proposal. Would this then lead to similar demands being raised from other Raj Bhavans across the country? Would it force a change in the administration of the Rashtrapati Bhavan? The BJP in the Opposition is yet to react to Koshyari’s demand but a question of what will happen in the event of some Governor raising the same issue in a BJP-ruled state is now being asked in the corridors of power.
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