Chennai: The Madras high court on Tuesday held that Puducherry Lt Governor Kiran Bedi ‘cannot interfere’ in the day-to-day affairs of the elected government in the Union Territory as it represents the will of the people.
“The decision taken by the Council of Ministers and the Chief Minister is binding on the Secretaries and other officials”, Justice R Mahadevan held in allowing a petition by Congress legislator K Lakshminarayanan representing (ironically) the Raj Bhavan constituency, who complained that Bedi “runs a parallel and diametrically opposite government within the government” while holding meetings directly with the secretaries and other officials, and issuing orders.
Setting aside two communications issued in January and June, 2017, by the Union Home Ministry “elevating” the power of the administrator (Lt Governor), Justice Mahadevan said, “The Central Government as well as the Administrator should be true to the concept of democratic principles. Otherwise, the Constitutional Scheme of the country of being democratic and republic would be defeated”.
“The Administrator has no exclusive authority to run the administration in derogation of the Constitutional principles and the Parliamentary laws governing the issue”, said the judge, adding, “Notable and appreciable is the action of the Central Government to re-delegate further powers to the Council of Ministers in the communication dated 27.09.2018”.
Chief Minister V Narayanasamy, who has been at loggerheads with Bedi over several issues, hailed the HC verdict as “historic and victory of democracy” in as much as it “stated unequivocally that Kiran Bedi does not have independent powers and she must work in tandem with the elected government in administrative and service matters, financial aspect of governance.”
Responding in guarded manner while giving enough hints there would be an appeal to the Supreme Court, Bedi said, “We are examining the judgment, after which we shall take a view. Meanwhile, we are still in the Model Code of Conduct of Elections period. Files which require Lt Governor's approval such as service matters, of promotions, appointments, disciplinary matters and financial sanctions for Grants in Aid are being received and being examined and cleared on merits of each case. The weekly disposal is also placed on record as was the earlier practice”, Bedi said in a statement to the media.
Elaborating on her selfless motive in insisting on being in the driver's seat rather than just a rubber stamp, she said, “I wish Puducherry well. Its people deserve the best. The UT needs utmost integrity, accountability and careful financial management to save it from running into a debt trap. Most of the people of Puducherry deserve quick decision- making with accessible governance”.
In arriving at his conclusion favouring the petitioner, Justice Mahadevan referred to the Supreme Court verdict on the tussle between Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and Lt Governor Anil Baijail, and said restrictions imposed on the Government of Delhi are not applicable to the Government of Puducherry. “The apex court has clearly held that there is a distinction between the National Capital Territory of Delhi and Puducherry”, he said, adding that though Puducherry is not a state, its Legislative Assembly would have the same powers as that of a state.
Senior lawyer P Chidambaram represented petitioner Lakshminarayanan, who submitted that there are political differences between the elected Government of Puducherry and the Centre. “She (Bedi) conducts review meetings with the officials directly, by-passing the elected government, carries out inspections and issues on-the-spot orders and thereby runs a parallel and diametrically opposite government within the government”, he said while alleging that Bedi interfered in the day-to-day administration of the territorial government, its policies and programmes.
The judge observed that the court had already discussed the role of secretaries. They normally act only as a medium of communication, utmost to render their opinion at circumstances and have no power or authority to override the decisions of the Council. “Though they may report to the Administrator nominated by the President, still they cannot shed their duty to the decision of the Council of Ministers taken as per the procedure laid down in the Government of Union Territories Act and the Rules of Business of the Government of Pondicherry, 1963”, said Justice Mahadevan, adding that the secretaries “cannot jump the gun and run a parallel Government under the directions of the Administrator”.
The judge also pointed out that the elected representatives of the government play a major role in decision making, or else, there would be no purpose in having an elected government, who are the true representatives of the people.
“The elected government functioning through the Council of Ministers cannot be defeated by the act of the Administrator, who is also functioning under the provisions of the Constitution, by way of interfering in the day to day affairs of the Government”, he said.
Alluding to the petitioner's complaint that Bedi was using the social media to summon officials, the Judge said, “The Government officials cannot use their personal media to address the grievances of the public. A public redressal forum in the form of official e-mails, telephone numbers are to be circulated and used, if already not put into use.”...