The Centre’s move to appoint retired bureaucrat and BJP leader KJ Alphons as Chandigarh administrator was put on hold on Wednesday after objection from the Shiromani Akali Dal government in Punjab.
Alphons confirmed the development, saying the Punjab government had raised certain technical issues.
The appointment of 63-year Alphons, a former IAS officer of the 1979 batch from Kerala, is set to end a 32-year practice of the Punjab governor holding additional charge of the union territory.
“I received a call from home minister Rajnath Singh last evening, informing me of the development. I am in Kerala, but will leave for New Delhi soon. The orders are expected to reach me in the evening,” he told Hindustan Times over the phone on Wednesday afternoon.
Later at night, former Rajya Sabha member VP Singh Badnore was named Punjab governor. The 68-year-old will take charge from Haryana governor Kaptan Singh Solanki, who was holding additional charge of Punjab for the past 18 months.
His appointment, however, made no mention if the governor would continue to run the union territory.
Alphons is best known for his demolition drive against illegal encroachments in the national capital when he was heading the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) in the 1990s. He quit bureaucracy in 2006 and joined the BJP in 2011.
“I am happy that the Prime Minister has reposed faith in me to give such a position. It’s a great city ... it’s a great job ... Though I don’t know much about the city, I have read a lot about it,” Alphons told PTI.
The BJP executive committee member had visited Chandigarh once.
Chandigarh has a unique position as the joint capital of Punjab and Haryana, but is directly administered by the Centre. The Centre’s decision to change Chandigarh’s administrative hierarchy is expected to upset alliance partner Shiromani Akali Dal in poll-bound Punjab.
It may embarrass the Akalis politically given that Chandigarh as state capital has been a longstanding contention between Punjab and Haryana.
Sources said the Parkash Singh Badal government will see the move as an attempt to reduce Punjab’s stakes in Chandigarh, and a step towards diluting the state’s claim to the city. The issue has the potential to become a major issue before the 2017 assembly polls.
Punjab Congress chief Amarinder Singh rejected the appointment, saying it was a blatantly unjust move aimed at snatching away Chandigarh from Punjab.
“You either make the central government, of which your party is an important constituent, rescind the move or you withdraw your daughter-in-law Harsimrat Kaur Badal from the council of ministers,” he told chief minister Badal.
He said the move subverts and undermines the Rajiv-Longowal Accord, and threatens Punjab’s hard-earned peace.
The Punjab governor has been officiating as Chandigarh administrator since 1984, when a violent separatist movement had engulfed the state. Punjab was then under President’s rule.
Before that, and since 1966 when Haryana was carved out of Punjab, Chandigarh was administered by a chief commissioner, a serving bureaucrat who reported to the Union government. The system was abolished on June 1, 1984, on the eve of Operation Bluestar in Amritsar’s Golden Temple, the holiest of Sikh shrines.
“Chandigarh is the capital of two states and it requires a full-time administrator,” said Alphons, an UPSC topper of 1979, who is a native of Manimala in Kerala’s Kottayam district.
In his 27 years as a civil servant, he was known as much for his dynamism as for courting controversies.
As Kottayam deputy commissioner in 1989, he started a movement that turned it into a 100% literate district. In 1992, he gave a dissenting note in the Palmolein oil deal case that led to his transfer from Kerala. He came to Delhi as commissioner of Delhi Development Authority (DDA) and demolished 14,000 buildings, some of them connected to Congress politicians. He claimed to have secured 1,500 acres worth Rs 10,000 crore.
He contested the Kanjirappally assembly seat in Kerala as an independent candidate supported by the Left Democratic Front.
(with PTI inputs)