ASSERTING that the powers of a lieutenant governor of a Union territory are different from that of a state, Puducherry Lt Governor Kiran Bedi has said that she could choose to overlook the Legislature depending on circumstances, and that she would have a say in the Budget for the coming year.
Speaking to The Indian Express over the phone from Puducherry, Bedi said, “While I have the power of an administrator and I hold the responsibility of finance and public services, they (the chief minister and MLAs) only have legislative powers. Let me make it clear. The rule that we follow is clear: I may or may not consult with the Legislature, depending on how compelling are the circumstances. That allowed me to suspend a senior official after he posted a porn video on an official WhatsApp group.”
In the interview, she added that “the imbalance” in allocation of money for urban and rural areas had left her disturbed. “Which government wants to spend money on rural cleanliness, sanitation, roads and electricity? Also, the municipal budget is small. I am going to correct all these mistakes in the new budget.”
Bedi and Chief Minister V Narayanasamy, who heads the Congress government in the state, have had a series of run-ins since she was appointed in May last year. Last week, she scrapped an order by Narayanasamy that barred government officials from using the social media for official purposes.
Denying that this was overreach on her part, the Lt Governor said, “The media and those who called me a dictator should read the rules. Unlike a state governor, an LG of a UT is also an administrator. I have final powers in crucial areas, including finance, public services and policy matters. When these crucial powers rest with me, I am not planning to run my office as a post-office. I will neither sit idle nor allow anyone to violate the rules.”
On her order cancelling Narayanasamy’s decision regarding social media, Bedi said, “As I told you, the services are completely with me. If the CM is contradicting the rules, it is my duty (to stop it)… That is what happened on his order banning social media.”
Narayanasamy had earlier too expressed unhappiness over the use of social media for official purposes. In July, he had called a meeting of senior officials to tell them that they shouldn’t bypass ministers, after Bedi started directly communicating with them over 20-odd WhatsApp groups.
However, that hasn’t deterred the Lt Governor. Outspoken on Twitter over her disagreements with Narayanasamy, she often tags the official handle of the Prime Minister’s Office.
A day after she scrapped the CM’s order, she wrote, “When a leader wants things done he will promote shared info. When he wants control & dependence he will ensure they r kept divided/deprived.”
On Sunday, she took a dig at Narayanasamy again for citing national security issues to curb the use of social media by officials, quoting External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj. Bedi tweeted: “This may be a cause of serious security concern to CM Pondicherry?… We are adopting a new pattern here. Pl tweet your problem to the concerned Indian Embassy/authority and endorse the same to @sushmaswaraj.”
The Lt Governor said Narayanasamy’s stand that sharing official information over social media with servers abroad could endanger security doesn’t hold water. “What is a WhatsApp group? It is nothing but a network. In a government system, people in different departments are strangers although these departments are involved in getting things done. My efforts to use social media have already formed a brilliant group of officials for effective coordination. Even if a department is independent, it has to work with another to clear a file. When there is a medium where we all could meet and talk, that’s the best way to make the system transparent. There is no question of the Official Secrets Act too, because whatever we share on social media — including transfer orders or appointment orders or other communications to resolve public grievances — are all information you can avail through RTI too. We are not dealing with any national security documents.”
Defending her decision to tag the PMO in her tweets, Bedi told The Indian Express, “I am committed to the PMO to make Puducherry Swachh. I am working towards that too.”
She had been making surprise visits to villages and markets as part of this effort, Bedi said. The visits too have been questioned for encroaching on the powers of the government. It was wrong to call these visits “proactive”, Bedi said, as it was “my responsibility”. “I cannot make Puducherry Swachh by sitting idle in the office. Lt Governor is a functioning administrator. Whenever I go for visits, I alert the local MLAs too. Unfortunately, I mostly get the reply that they are busy. Fine, they may be busy. That doesn’t stop me from doing my job.”
Bedi claimed the way the Puducherry government has been run in the recent years forced her to act. “When the state budget has already become a debt trap, how can I be an onlooker here, especially when I am accountable for the money we get from the Centre? For how long will we borrow money to pay interests? These issues are the outcome of Puducherry’s governance in the last 10 years. We are borrowing money to pay salaries.”
She added that she had been getting “a lot of complaints” about corrupt practices, though she didn’t have any evidence. “If I get a solid complaint, I will order an inquiry. If I catch them redhanded, they will be suspended.”
Bedi, who announced on Saturday that she would relinquish office on May 29, 2018, after two years in office, claimed that she had already achieved much success. “If criticisms are on my working style, I am already a success. I an empowering my officials, making them work together. We have a fantastic team now.”
“Of course, I am accountable too,” she added. “I am accountable to the President of India.”