The Congress’ problems continue to multiply. This time in Gujarat where it’s Governor Kamla Beniwal’s move to appoint a Lokayukta without consulting the Modi Government has sparked an acrimonious exchange between the BJP and the Congress, both in the State and Centre. Reaching a crescendo with the Saffron Party petitioning President Pratibha Patil and demanding the Governor’s recall. Recall, last week, the Governor suo moto appointed retired Judge R.A. Mehta as the State Lokayukta bypassing the State Government. On the grounds that “there might be a circumstance, where the Governor could not remain a mute spectator to the happenings in the State.” Congress leaders sided with the Governor by quoting the relevant law which states the Lokayukta is appointed by the Governor, Leader of Opposition and the Chief Justice of the High Court. Clearly, it took advantage that the law is silent on the need to consult the Chief Minister and his Government for the Lokayukta’s appointment. The ruling BJP countered, by asserting that the consultations with the Government might be unwritten but are implied therein.
Interestingly, the appointment of the State Lokayukta had been hanging fire since November 2009. But more important, Gujarat has once again ignited the controversy on gubernatorial appointment with not a few Governors’ in various States being accused of acting at the behest of their mai-baaps in the Centre. Only recently Karnataka’s Governor HR Bhardwaj earned the ire of the erstwhile Yedurappa Government for acting as the Centre’s ‘rubber stamp’, in Bihar Buta Singh’s too played politics with his Government as also Syed Sibtey Razi’s in Jharkhand, S C Jamir in Goa, Romesh Bhandari in UP et al who all willy nilly acted on the Centre’s behest even if it went against the grain of upholding the best tenets of the Constitution and our Parliamentary democracy. Undoubtedly, Gujarat yet again underscores the need to have a fresh look at the appointment of Governors in the various States. Time for the UPA to dust up the Sarkaria Commission report and appoint ‘apolitical’ Governors who do not ‘serve as the eyes and ears of the Centre’ but use their expertise in voicing concerns of the State and its people to the powers that-be in New Delhi.
TN Opens Pandora’s Box
Recent occurrences in Tamil Nadu in all likelihood have opened a Pandora’s Box. Ten days before the three accused in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case were to be hanged, the Madras High Court on Tuesday last stayed their execution for eight weeks. Additionally, the State Assembly has passed an unprecedented “unanimous” resolution appealing to President Pratibha Patil to reconsider their mercy plea. What happens next is anybody’s guess, but the two events shall have a cascading effect. The court gave the stay after hearing the pleadings of the three accused that the delay of over 11 years in deciding their mercy petitions should be the sole ground for commuting their death sentence. This could have an impact on the fate of another death row convict in Assam, M K Das, whose mercy petition too was rejected by the President after a gap of 11 years. A similar case resonates in Haryana, wherein convict Dharam Pal’s mercy petition has been hanging fire since 1999. All eyes are now on what the Centre replies to the Madras High Court.
Ripples In J&K
The Tamil Nadu Assembly’s resolution resonated even up north, in Jammu & Kashmir. None other than its Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has set the cat amongst the pigeons. On Wednesday last, he tweeted: If J&K Assembly had passed a resolution similar to the Tamil Nadu one for Afzal Guru (convicted in Parliament attack case) would the reaction have been as muted? I think not”. The tweet has unfortunately provided ammunition to the separatists, with Mirwaiz Umar Farooq calling the J&K Assembly a proxy of New Delhi and adding that “it doesn’t have the guts to do anything…. It hasn’t even been able to pass a resolution against the Armed Forces Special Powers Act despite repeatedly asking for its revocation.” While some NC leaders tend to agree with Mirwaiz, an Independent MLA Engineer Rashid is thinking on the lines of introducing a similar resolution in the Assembly in favour of Guru. The big question now is that if this happens, what would be the Centre’s reaction.
Punjab is all set to pick up cudgels with the Centre. This follows New Delhi’s refusal to amend the Sikh Marriage Act on the grounds that this was unjustifiable and it would invite similar demands from other communities. Worse, the Centre’s “No” came in a reply to a question by Shiromani Akali Dal MP Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa in the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday last. An upset Badal accused the Centre of “breach of trust”, asserting that the then Law Minister Veerappa Moily had assured him that the draft bill was ready and would be sent to the Cabinet. The CM now plans to meet the Prime Minister and Law Minister Salman Khurshid to press for the amendment to the Anand Karaj (Marriage) Act 1909. So far, marriages performed under Sikh religious rights are registered either under the Hindu Marriage Act or the Special Marriage Act. How the Centre will calm the Sikh community is worth a watch.
Delhi’s Citizen Charter
Delhi Government is all set to make Anna and his team happy. It has decided not to let officials sit on files. On Wednesday last, the Delhi Right of Citizens to Time Bound Delivery of Services (DRCTBDS), passed in March was notified. Well, from 15 September, select departments of the Government such as those dealing with cable licences, health licence, mutation of land records etc will be committed to service-level agreements for delivering on citizens demands within a time frame. While the penalty for defaulting officers is shockingly low, Rs 10 per application per day of delay, which could go up to Rs 200, “habitual offenders” would have to pay dearly. They could face administrative action, departmental inquiry or transfer posting. The monitoring will be done through electronic-service level agreement (e-SLA) under the Delhi Administration. Said an elated Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit: “This Act was scheduled for notification more than four months ago by us, much before Anna Hazare raised the issue of Citizens’ Charter.” Three Cheers! —- INFA