The unseemly confrontation between Lieutenant Governor Kiran Bedi and Chief Minister V Narayanasamy in Puducherry raises serious questions about the remit of the LG’s office in this Union Territory with an elected government. Narayanasamy is sitting on a dharna outside the Raj Bhavan since February 13 demanding that the LG approve his cabinet’s proposals concerning social welfare schemes and other governance matters. Bedi, who left Puducherry for Delhi a day after the dharna began, cut short her visit and returned to the state capital on Sunday.
Both parties have preferred to engage through open letters, public statements and social media barbs instead of sitting across the table and sorting out their differences. Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and his deputy, Manish Sisodia, visited Narayanasamy on Monday to express solidarity and to highlight what they see as an attempt by the Centre to usurp the powers of elected governments through the LG’s office.
In Delhi, a combative government has taken its disputes with the LG to the Supreme Court. Though the issues in Delhi and Puducherry seem similar, the LG of the National Capital Territory has more executive powers compared to his counterpart in the southern UT. This is understandable since Delhi is also the home of the Union government.
The Government of Union Territories Act, 1963 allows the office discretionary powers, but these must be exercised judiciously and only in exceptional circumstances. Puducherry has an elected assembly and the task of law making should be entrusted with it. Similarly, public policy and administration must be left to the elected representatives. Bedi has chosen to ignore this simple principle and is insisting that the elected government function under her direction. For instance, among the proposals Bedi has refused to approve are a government initiative for free rice — the LG has mooted cash transfers, instead — and salaries for teachers in aided institutions.
The LG may disagree with these, but should she stall them, especially since some of these proposals were a part of the ruling party’s election manifesto and are within the ambit of law?
The UT Act was legislated more than half a century ago. Much has changed in UTs like Delhi and Puducherry, which have legislative assemblies. The office and role of the LG needs to be restructured to recognise the shift in public sentiment towards more democracy. Clearly, there is a need to reimagine the political system in the UTs in favour of the popular government.