Opinion

Clarity in Puducherry

Clarity in Puducherry

The Madras High Court on Tuesday settled the question on who ought to run the administration in the Union Territory of Puducherry in favour of the legislature and the elected government. It has ruled that the office of the Lieutenant Governor should not interfere in the day-to-day administration when an elected government is in place. The court also clarified that government secretaries should report to the Council of Ministers headed by the chief minister on all official matters and are not empowered to issue orders on their own or upon the instructions of the administrator, namely the LG. The ungainly confrontation involving Puducherry LG Kiran Bedi and Chief Minister V Narayanaswamy should henceforth cease.

The order has come on a petition filed by K Lakshminarayanan, a Congress MLA, in 2017 which suggested that the LG ran a parallel government in Puducherry by conducting review meetings with officers and giving on-the-spot orders. The LG’s office responded by claiming that the law bestowed on it powers to act independently of the government. It also sought to draw a parallel with the National Capital Territory of Delhi. The HC did not accept the claim and clarified that the laws that concerns the two regions are different: Puducherry is governed by provisions of Article 239A of the Constitution while Article 239AA pertains to Delhi. Article 239AA has specific provisions that limits the administrative remit of the Delhi government since the NCT of Delhi is also the seat of the central government. Such exceptions are irrelevant in the case of Puducherry. The elected government is entrusted with the task of running the administration and it should be left to the electorate to punish the government if it fails to execute its mandate. The LG, an appointee of the Centre and the representative of the President, ought to exercise powers only in the event of a constitutional breakdown. This is the spirit that underlies parliamentary democracy, which the Madras High Court invoked. The court said: “The Central government as well as the Administrator (the term used in the Constitution to refer to the LG) 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 UT Act was formulated in 1963 and much has changed in Puducherry — and Delhi — since. The electorate perceives the legislature as the rightful body for making law and formulating policy and holds the elected government accountable for administration. As the court has said, the LG and the Council of Ministers must “avoid logjam and facilitate the smooth functioning of the government in public interest, leaving political differences apart”.