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Administering Chandigarh

August 26, 2016 06:37 AM

Administering Chandigarh
M.G. Devasahaym
In the last five decades, two generations have grown up seeing Chandigarh as a distinct territorial entity. It is, therefore, natural for the city's residents to demand a council of elected representatives to be put in place to take and execute all policy and other administrative decisions.THE Union Territory of Chandigarh came into existence on November 1, 1966 under Section 4 of The Punjab Reorganisation Act: "On and from the appointed day, there shall be formed a new Union Territory to be known as the Union Territory of Chandigarh comprising such of the territories of Manimajra and Manauli kanungo circles of Kharar tehsil of Ambala district in the existing state of Punjab as are specified in the Second Schedule and thereupon the territories so specified shall cease to form part of the existing state of Punjab."
Responding to popular demand, the state of Punjab was reorganised in 1966 on a linguistic basis. The J.C. Shah Commission appointed for the purpose awarded Chandigarh to Haryana, but due to dispute it was made into a Union Territory (UT), serving as the common capital of the two states with the intention of giving it to Punjab at a later stage. Initially, this arrangement was for a period of 10 years. When this term was coming to an end, I was the Deputy Commissioner-cum-Estate Officer of the UT. Since I belonged to the Haryana cadre, I was packing up to say farewell when we received the Government of India notification extending the term for a further period of 10 years. Now it is going to be half a century, with the golden jubilee due in a few weeks.
Quite different from other cities and towns, Chandigarh, the only well-planned green-field city in the country, developed in a systematic and organised manner. The legal framework for the city was set in place in 1952 by enacting the Capital of Punjab (Development and Regulation) Act. This was followed in the same year by framing the Punjab Capital (Development and Regulation) Building Rules, the Chandigarh (Sale of Sites) Rules and the promulgation of the Chandigarh Trees Preservation Order. Also, the Punjab New Capital (Periphery) Control Act was enacted to control and regulate construction at the periphery of the city up to a distance of 8 km in all directions.
Under the provisions of these acts and rules, an institution known as the Capital Project Organisation (CPO) was set up, with full administrative and technical components, and clear-cut functions in the areas of architecture and urban planning, engineering, estate management, and finance. The Chief Administrator was the head of the CPO, with a chief architect, chief engineer, and estate officer looking after their respective functions. The CPO was a non-elected organisation, but performed the functions of both project development and local administration and had a fair amount of autonomy.
The Chief Administrator was vested with powers to frame by-laws and issue instructions regarding building, land use, sale of developed plots, preservation of trees, regulation of outdoor advertisements, peripheral control, and other related matters. Implementation of these was the responsibility of the Estate Officer, who was also the administrator of the capital project.
Consequent to the reorganisation of the state of Punjab in 1966, the city of Chandigarh and a few adjoining villages were made into a Union Territory, administered by the central government. A Chief Commissioner, appointed by the Government of India, was the head of the Chandigarh administration, performing the functions of the Chief Administrator. By appropriate notifications, all of the acts and rules were made applicable to Chandigarh UT in the same form and substance. The Chief Architect and Chief Engineer continued in the same capacities, with additional responsibility as Secretaries to these respective Departments. The Estate Officer was additionally designated as Deputy Commissioner of the Union Territory. New posts of Home Secretary and Finance Secretary were created to assist the Chief Commissioner.
In I984, the Governor of Punjab was designated as the "Administrator" of the Union Territory and the post of the Chief Commissioner was reduced to that of "Adviser to the Administrator". This was a temporary arrangement to facilitate the coordination of anti-militant/disturbed area operations in Punjab in the wake of Operation Bluestar at the Golden Temple, Amritsar. Though these "operations" have ceased decades ago, typical of India's governance lethargy this "temporary arrangement" has almost become permanent with Punjab developing a huge vested interest.
While so, in 1994, the Municipal Corporation of Chandigarh was established under the provision of the Punjab Municipal Corporation Law (Extension to Chandigarh) Act. In pursuance of this, the first Commissioner of the Municipal Corporation (MC) of Chandigarh was appointed in May 1995. In September 1995 and May 1996, certain functions were transferred to the MC, along with employees and funds. In December 1996, local elections were held, whereby a mayor and 14 councillors were elected to the corporation. This brought in a dual system of administration in Chandigarh, with the appointed officials controlling the majority of functions and funds, while the elected corporation is given a partial role.
In the last five decades, two generations have been born and brought-up in Chandigarh as a distinct territorial entity. It is therefore natural for the city's citizens to demand a council of elected representatives to be put in place to take and execute all policy and other administrative decisions. According to them, the existing arrangement of governing and administering the UT through the Governor and by a team of bureaucrats answerable to none, was a clear violation of the democratic rights of the residents and also of the Constitution. This is because the municipal corporation, zila parishad, market committee and panchayat samiti, which had elected governing bodies, had been reduced to powerless entities as bureaucrats had the powers to overrule their decisions.
It was in the midst of such churning that the central government decided to delink the Punjab Governor from administering the UT of Chandigarh and appoint former civil servant KJ Alphons as an independent administrator, with the rank and status of Lieutenant Governor. But as quickly as it was taken, the decision was rescinded under intense pressure from the Punjab Chief Minister who was apprehensive about the loss of Punjab's claim over the city, particularly when the state assembly was facing elections.
The merit and demerit of appointing an independent administrator for Chandigarh can be debated at length. The moot question is whether the Chandigarh administration, which is already falling between two stools (bureaucratic and democratic), should add one more stool! Many local leaders have expressed views on this development.
But the most apt one came from former MP and Railway Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal. When asked to clarify whether he would prefer a separate administrator or an additional charge with Punjab governor, he opted for the former. He went on to say: "In fact, a Chief Commissioner would be good enough…They simply need to turn the post of adviser into a Chief Commissioner." This perhaps could be the solution.
The writer is a former Deputy Commissioner of Chandigarh.

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