The elected govt of Puducherry is at war with Lt Governor Kiran Bedi. Here's why
The ongoing feud between the Puducherry government, headed by Congress Chief Minister V Narayanaswamy, and Lt Governor Kiran Bedi, a BJP appointee, came to a head on 16 June when the Territorial Assembly adopted a resolution accusing her with interfering with the administration.
The resolution urges the Centre to curb her powers.
Not a ‘rubber stamp’
Reacting to the resolution, a combative Bedi sarcastically said they had at least acknowledged she had powers. "I will not be a rubber stamp," she said.
In a statement on Saturday, she said, "Let the Centre adjudicate on the distribution of powers. Let them take a conscious view, because it's the question of Union Territory management. Puducherry has an elected Assembly with an administrator appointed by the President of India. In fact, I have also requested the Centre that they need to be formally told that there are the legal responsibilities."
Narayanaswamy also said he had already written to the Centre to define the powers of the Lt Governor.
The assembly resolution urges the Centre to bring ammendments to the Government of Union Territories Act, 1963 so that only the elected government in the UT is vested with full powers on administrative matters.
Narayanaswamy referred to the provisions in the Constitution and also the various laws relating to administration and conduct of business in Puducherry. He said Puducherry is different from other Union Territories like Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Lakshadweep as it has an elected legislature.
A necessary move
It was AIADMK Amma leader K Anbalagan who moved the resolution. While tabling it, he spoke of how such a move was necessary to help the government implement various welfare schemes.
In fact, according to chief whip RKR Anantharaman, Bedi had even come in the way of sanctioning funds to the legislators to help them develop their constituencies. "Bedi seems to be functioning more autocratically than Hitler had done," he reportedly said according to PTI.
Parliamentary Secretary K Lakshminarayanan then brought a letter written by the Lieutenant Governor to the National Green Tribunal purportedly to issue an appropriate binding order against the government on waste management to the Assembly’s attention.
The Assembly speaker then directed the Chief Minister to get possession of the letter sent to NGT.
Bedi, who assumed office in May 2016, has been on a collision course with the Narayanaswamy government from the very outset. She bypassed the elected government by holding review meetings with officials at Raj Nivas, cancelled transfer orders and communicated with the officials through video conferencing and WhatsApp.
The feud came out in the open on 30 May when Bedi conducted a surprise inspection of the counselling process by the Centralised Admission Committee for PG courses in Puducherry and directed officials to ensure that 50% of seats available under government quota were filled and not given to private colleges or under the all-India quota.
Though Narayanaswamy tried to go to the press to counter the charges, Bedi said the Raj Nivas played a vital role in solving problems of students seeking PG medical admissions after 16 students who opted to join the Deemed Universities for PG Medical courses through CENTAC counselling, but were refused admission.
She said she stepped in after the affected students got relief from the Madras High Court and she found "there was a lot of confusion in the government on the issue".
She then directed her secretary to respond to a PIL to tell the court that the views of Raj Nivas were “at variance with those of the UT Government".
Narayanaswamy, however, said the UT government had filed a counter to the PIL in which it submitted that deemed universities were charging exorbitant fee over which the government had no control.
In an interim order, a Madras High Court bench on 16 June asked the UGC and the HRD Ministry to urgently set up a fee committee to fix the fees structure.
The order was given based on a public interest lawsuit on the issue of the "exorbitant fees" - between Rs 40 lakh to Rs 50 lakh - being demanded by the deemed universities.
It also directed the Union HRD Ministry and the University Grants Commission to set up a committee to regulate the fees chargeable by self-financed deemed universities.
The bench observed that because of the high fees some seats still remained vacant.
An embattled minister
The Chief Minister, on his part, said he bowed to the court order. In a sharp attack on Bedi, Narayanaswamy accused her of making statements through social media only for 'publicity' and "being inclined to tarnish the image of the government.
According to Narayanaswamy, the interim order did not find any lapses on the part of CENTAC in the admission process. He questioned the rationale behind the Lt Governor's demand to reconstitute it to conduct admissions to MBBS courses, B Tech and other UG courses. He said though Bedi had got 22 students admitted in DUs on a promise that they would be charged only Rs 5.5 lakh fee as fixed by the committee, it would not be possible, he said.
"Now that the students have got relief from court, we will take all steps to implement it,” he said.
"If she has no faith or confidence in us, she can leave Puducherry for good," he said further said, referring to Bedi.