Guest column: Chandigarh should revert to chief commissioner model
A Chinese proverb says “May you live in interesting times”. My stint in the Chandigarh administration of almost nine years—first as deputy commissioner-cum-estate officer and subsequently as home secretary—was indeed an interesting, rewarding and satisfying experience. During these nine years of serving the people of the city, I worked in close coordination with five governors and five advisers.
Ever since its inception, Chandigarh has remained the joint capital of two states of Punjab and Haryana. The UT administration was a mix of Indian Administrative Services officers drawn from the AGMU, Punjab and Haryana cadres—headed by a serving officer designated as the chief commissioner, who was assisted by the home secretary and the finance secretary.
During the insurgency in Punjab, the Centre had decided that for ensuring better coordination with the Punjab government, the charge of UT administrator should be given to the governor of Punjab and the post of chief commissioner was relegated to the adviser.
However, this system created many problems. One, the decision-making became slow since an additional tier was created. Even though some of the functions of the administrator were delegated to the adviser, the major policy decisions and statutory approvals were required to be taken at the higher level. Further, the Raj Bhawan being almost out of bounds for the common man, made it increasingly difficult for the masses to meet the administrator for grievance redressal.
Sometimes even the Chandigarh Member of Parliament would find it difficult to get an appointment with the administrator at a short notice, which was not at all difficult when chief commissioners were heading city governance.
Now that there is normalcy in Punjab, there is an ongoing debate going on for a long time as to whether we should revert to the chief commissioner model. The last few years have seen a manifold increase in the population of Chandigarh, the demographics are changing and so are the aspirations of people. They want quick and better governance on all fronts.
Being the capital city of two states, Chandigarh is not a normal UT. It needs to safeguard the interests of both the states. And it becomes even more complicated when there is an ongoing tussle between both the states over their share in controlling the UT.
Governing a UT is akin to governing a state. Only those Punjab governors who were former chief ministers or a Union minister or had the experience of leading the country’s armed forces have been effective in administering Chandigarh well. Some of these governors were quite proactive and they started sitting in the room in the Secretariat earmarked for the administrator, which provided a window to hear the grievances of the residents. Very few past governors have visited the Secretariat as a normal routine.
Running UT a full-time job
Running a union territory is a full-time job: if the governor of Punjab is entrusted with the responsibility of the administrator, governance is bound to suffer.
The additional charge of administrator given to the Punjab governor has also remained a bone of contention between both the state governments. One of the former chief ministers of Haryana used to advocate that the post of administrator should be rotated between the governors of both the states.
So in my considered opinion and past experience, and in the interest of better governance, the responsibility of the UT administrator should revert to the chief commissioner, who should be a serving IAS officer having seniority equivalent to that of the secretary to Government of India or equivalent.
Further in the interest of stability, he should have a fixed tenure of 2-3 years. That will not only meet the demands of the people of Chandigarh but will also help in achieving the aims of good governance while meeting the objective of ‘minimum government, maximum governance’.
(The writer is a retired IAS officer who has served as home secretary and deputy commissioner-cum-estate officer of the UT administration)