How Chandigarh almost got its own head again, separate from Punjab governor

  • HT Correspondents, Hindustan Times, Chandigarh, New Delhi
  • Updated: Aug 17, 2016 21:31 IST
KJ Alphons (Photo: Facebook)

The Centre’s move to appoint bureaucrat-turned-politician KJ Alphons as the UT’s administrator -- abandoned hours later -- on Wednesday would have ended Punjab Raj Bhawan’s role in running Chandigarh, which has a unique position as joint capital of Punjab and Haryana.

The practice of the Punjab governor also holding the charge of the Chandigarh UT’s administrator was put in place in 1984 at the height of militancy in the border state. It was done to facilitate smooth coordination on security issues. Punjab was under President’s rule at the time.

Before that, since 1966 when Haryana was carved out of a larger Punjab state, Chandigarh was administered by a chief commissioner, a serving bureaucrat who reported to the Union government.

The chief commissioner system was discontinued on June 1, 1984, on the eve of Operation Bluestar in the Golden Temple in Amritsar.

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The new pecking order put the Punjab governor at the helm of Chandigarh too. The chief commissioner was re-designated as adviser to the UT administrator and was appointed by the Union government. Bhairad Datt Pande, who was the governor in 1984, was given the additional charge of administrator and K Banerjee, the last chief commissioner of Chandigarh, was made his adviser.

While the Union home ministry is empowered to change the administrative structure of the UT, its move to relieve the Punjab governor of the charge as Chandigarh administrator would have needed formal assent of President Pranab Mukherjee.

Politically, the BJP-led Centre’s very move towards divesting the Punjab governor of the charge as Chandigarh administrator ruffled feathers of its ruling alliance partner Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) in poll-bound Punjab. CM Parkash Singh Badal first said he had talked to Union home minister Rajnath Singh and the Centre was “reviewing” the decision; and soon after, the move was abandoned. The Badal government, as expected, interpreted the Narendra Modi-led government’s move as an attempt to whittle down Punjab’s stakes in Chandigarh.

But, in between, given that Chandigarh as state capital has been a long-standing bone of contention between Punjab and Haryana, the Congress had already attacked the CM over the move.

The new governor appointed on Wednesday, VP Singh Badnore , will take the charge from Kaptan Singh Solanki, the Haryana governor who holds charge of Punjab too. However, technically, Solanki will remain the UT administrator too until an order is expressly issued to state that Badnore will have the UT charge too. So far, the order only made Badnore the governor of Punjab and did not mention the UT, sources said.

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