Recall of Governors
The Raj Bhavans in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu are embroiled in a battle with the elected governments. The open fracas between West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar has got murkier. After a Cabinet meeting on Monday last, Didi blocked Dhankar on social media platform, saying: “I am sorry to say I was forced to do this. Every day, he (Governor) abuses me and our officers using unethical and unconstitutional words. He hands out instructions as if we are his servants or bonded labourers. The elected Government is bonded labour, but he, someone who is only nominated, is a super guard. Every day after seeing his tweet, I become irritated.” Besides, she accused him of “spying on everybody from Raj Bhavan… Pegasus is going on in Raj Bhavan!” Dhankar hit back with the tweet: “WB Guv: Under Article 167 it is Constitution ‘duty’ of the Chief Minister to furnish such information relating to the administration of the affairs of the State and proposals for legislation as the Governor may call for. Why ‘block’ information to Guv now for two years?” The war between the two which has been hitting headlines is said to have reached Parliament doorstep. TMC’s Lok Sabha leader Sudip Bandhyopadhyay said he has told President Kovind ‘to remove him from the post for the sake of Parliamentary democracy.’ Further, the party plans to move a substantial motion in the Rajya Sabha against him, if it manages to get support of non-BJP parties. It’s anybody’s guess what the climax will be in this high-pitched drama.
Likewise, Tamil Nadu Raj Bhavan is embroiled in a row. This after Governor Ravi returned to the Stalin government an Assembly bill which seeks exemption to the State from NEET. The justification being given is that it goes against ‘interests of rural and economically poor students.’ A livid DMK government is to plan future course of action with other political parties, following a Raj Bhavan release which said: “The Governor has returned the bill, adopted by the state Assembly in September 2021 and the report of a high level committee constituted by the Tamil Nadu government in this connection to the Assembly Speaker M. Appavu,” A determined government, which has been opposed to NEET, has “assured all steps for adopting the bill again in the Assembly”, and the Governor’s opinions will be studied and “truth about NEET explained.” Plus, DMK and Congress members staged a walk out in the Lok Sabha demanding recall of Ravi. How far this battle will go needs to be watched.
Kerala Govt Relieved
Kerala’s LDF government can heave a sigh of relief. On Friday last, the State Lokayukta rejected a petition seeking investigation against Higher Education Minister R Bindu in the controversial re-appointment of Kannur University Vice-Chancellor (VC) Dr Gopinath Ravindran. Former Opposition leader Chennithala had in his plea accused the minister of ‘nepotism, misuse of power and corruption’ in the re-appointment. Lokayukta Justice Cyriac Joseph observed the minister had ‘only suggested’ the name of Gopinath for re-appointment and such a suggestion ‘did not amount to misuse of power or nepotism.’ Besides, he said the governor is the sole authority of appointing a VC and there’s nothing illegal if a minister, who is pro-VC, makes such a proposal. The timing of the order is interesting as only last week the Cabinet had recommended to the Government to issue an ordinance to amend the Kerala Lokayukta Act, 1999, wherein it gives powers to the government to “either accept or reject the verdict of the Lokayukta, after giving an opportunity of being heard”. Will the Lokayukta wings be eventually clipped?
Haryana Job Quota Setback
The BJP-JJP government in Haryana has suffered a major setback to fulfil its promise of providing job opportunities to the youth. On Wednesday last, Punjab & Haryana High Court granted an interim stay on the Haryana State Employment of Local Candidates Act, 2020, providing 75% reservation in private sector for those who have a “domicile in the State.” The law, which came into force on January 15, covers private companies, trusts, societies and partnership firms and applies to jobs which offer a maximum gross monthly salary or wages of up to Rs 30,000. Industry associations have opposed it saying it would: affect their business and make them less competitive; the “sons of the soil” law was an infringement on the constitutional rights of employers; private sector jobs are purely based on the employees’ skills and analytical bent of mind and that citizens of India have the constitutional right to seek jobs in any part of the country. An adamant government knocked on the doors of the Supreme Court on Friday challenging the HC order. Chief Minister Khattar said the government “will firmly stand its ground and will fight in the court…” How long will the battle be, is anybody’s guess.
The Supreme Court has good reason to be distraught. It’s directions of November 2017 asking State governments to set up Special Courts to try pending criminal cases against legislators, is not being adhered to. Only 12 such courts have been set up across the country, but what is worse is the warning that “more and more persons with criminal antecedents are occupying the seats in the Parliament and the State Legislative Assemblies.” This as per a report submitted on Thursday last by Amicus Curiae, who is assisting the apex court in the matter. As on 1 December 2021, 4,984 criminal cases involving legislators were pending in various courts of which “1,899 cases are more than 5 years old”. In December 2018, the number was 4,110; and on October 2020 it was 4,859. The report sought it was of “utmost necessity that urgent and stringent steps are taken for expeditious disposal of pending criminal cases”, and that the SC direct that “courts dealing with cases against MPs/MLAs will exclusively try these cases” and “other cases would be taken up only after trials of such cases are over” to avoid delay. The “trial would be conducted on a day to day basis…and necessary allocation of work would be made by the HC and/or Principal Sessions Judges of every district within two weeks”, said the report. The big question is will clean-up operation pick up steam.
All is not well in Ladakh. A battle appears to be brewing between elected councillors and the bureaucracy. The latter is being accused of undermining Leh and Kargil Hill Councils in Ladakh since it was turned into a Union Territory in August 2019. In fact, councillors of Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council-Leh had boycotted the Republic Day function as they were peeved over being denied entry into the event’s venue at Leh through the VIP gate. The bureaucracy, they claim has been getting ‘increasingly more powerful, encroaching into their jurisdiction and disempowering public representatives like them.’ The grievance, they add is across the political and regional spectrum and instead of being empowered they are being undermined. What needs to be done is the question. Union Home Minister Amit Shah, some suggest needs to set the ‘warrant of precedence’, streamline it and strengthen the LAHDC Act. Clearly, the Centre needs to get its act together as the UT has its border with China and Pakistan. The demand of Statehood is also pending and residents have observed shutdowns since last August to press for it. Will the Centre yield?