Earlier this month, the Supreme Court refused to stay a Madras High Court order, which clipped the powers of Lieutenant Governor of Puducherry, Kiran Bedi. Dismissing appeals filed by Bedi and the centre, Chief Justice of India Rajan Gogoi instructed her counsel to file an appeal with the division bench of the Madras High Court first.
In April, the Madras High Court had ruled that the office of the Lieutenant Governor had no powers to interfere with the day-to-day functioning of the elected government of Puducherry. The court also observed that in matters of finance and administration and service, Bedi could only act on the advice of Puducherry’s council of ministers.
The LG and Puducherry's Chief Minister V Narayanasamy have been engaged in a bitter turf war for the last three years over governance issues, with the latter accusing Bedi of being obstructionist.
CNBC-TV18's Jude Sannith spoke exclusively to Chief Minister Narayanasamy and discussed what is being perceived as a decisive legal victory for his government.
Here are the edited excerpts:
Q. Just days ago, the Supreme Court refused to stay the Madras High Court’s order curtailing Puducherry LG Kiran Bedi from acting independently in matters of governance. Does this put an end to the turf war and governance tussle between the offices of the LG and the Chief Minister of Puducherry?
A. The bureaucrats of the Puducherry have received a clear direction from the honorable Supreme Court, which emanated from the Madras High Court — that governance should be by the elected government, and that the administrator of the union territory has only limited powers relating to Quasi-Judicial authority, and can refer matters when there is a difference of opinion, to the President of India. Otherwise, the administrator has to go by the aid and advice of the council of ministers. This is very clear. For the time being, I feel the message has gone to the bureaucrats of the Puducherry government. They will follow the directions given by the honourable high court. The Supreme Court dismissing the petition of the LG is a clear message to bureaucrats.
Q. The LG’s counsel said, in the Supreme Court, that her main contention was that ever since the Madras High Court’s decision, governance had come to a standstill in Puducherry. What is your response to that claim?
A. It is the other way. When she (Kiran Bedi) was interfering in the day-to-day administration of the government, it was difficult for our government to implement policies, programmes, and conduct day-to-day activities. She was trying to block salaries to employees and wasn’t allowing our government to take decisions relating to land. When we sent files, she returned them with several queries. Now, with the exception of files where the LG has to address matters on service — like appointments and dismissals — the administration is moving fast since all files will terminate at the office of the Chief Minister.
Q. With the Supreme Court refusing to stay the Madras High Court order, do you feel welfare schemes caught in the crossfire between the offices of the LG and Chief Minister will carry on without interruption?
A. Various welfare schemes and salaries to government employees will be implemented smoothly, without any difficulty. We have allocated funds for all these schemes, and they will be implemented by the officers. There will not be any interference by the LG. I don’t find any kind of hurdle in implementing any of these schemes and projects in a speedy manner.
Q. The last three years of Kiran Bedi’s tenure have been colourful, high-profile and popular on social media. Some would say she was acting constitutionally. With the Supreme Court refusing to stay the Madras High Court’s verdict, do you feel Ms Bedi will tone it down?
A. For the last three years, her (Bedi’s) tenure has not only been colourful but also curse-full. The people of Puducherry were punished by her unconstitutional means of approaching issues and deciding matters, without any authority. The people suffered for three years. But I still don’t find any reason to say she will change herself. Even God cannot change her.
Q. So, will your dharnas against Kiran Bedi’s style of functioning come to an end now?
A. Governance will go on because we have another weapon now. When there is a clear court verdict, and she (Bedi) violates it, we will move the honourable high court on the grounds of contempt. So, the weapon is our hands. When the people’s welfare is being prevented, I will go to any extent to restore it. I will consider moving contempt against her.
Q. Does the Madras High Court order and the Supreme Court refusing to stay it now set a legal precedent in terms of where boundaries begin an end between Chief Ministers and LG in state-union territories?
A. Certainly. The High Court judgement is very clear. The honourable Supreme Court, in Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s case, has already laid down the constitutional validity of an elected government. It said the administrator has to act on the aid and advice of the council of ministers, that the administrator has no independent power, the administrator should not become an obstructionist, the administrator has to cooperate with the elected government for development, and cabinet decisions are final. So the observations of the Constitutional Bench of the Supreme Court is binding not only Puducherry and Delhi but all over the country. Now there are subtle differences between Puducherry and Delhi. Delhi being a capital territory, land, law & order, finance and services are with the Government of India. As far as Puducherry is concerned, land, law & order, finance and services are with the state government, except IAS officials who are central government appointees. Therefore, Puducherry is a full-fledged state except for one factor — that when there is a difference of opinion, the President has to resolve it. In other states, when the cabinet sends back a file, the governor has no other option but to sign it. But in Puducherry, one cushion has been given to the administrator — to refer the matter to the President of India. Otherwise, Puducherry and other states are on equal footing as far as the administration is concerned. Nobody can disturb the elected government here.
Q. What is your personal equation like with Ms Bedi?
A. I don’t have any personal animosity with her. I have always respected her and respected her office. I expect that she respects the office of the Chief Minister, and that is where she lags. She thinks she’s supreme and that whatever she decides has to be done. That is not becoming of a democratic country, where people have given the mandate to us. She has to go by the decision of the elected government and cannot dictate terms to us. She has no independent authority and has no mandate, which rests with the elected government. As far our personal relationship is concerned, I respect her and expect her to respect us.
Q. So, could this mean good governance in the days ahead for Puducherry?
A. There will be good governance in Puducherry, with development. Our law & order is under control, tourism is booming and we are trying to bring industries here. Welfare schemes are also being implemented. Despite the fact that Puducherry isn’t getting revenue from sources like minerals, relying instead on sources like commercial taxes, excise duty, tourism and transportation, we are still implementing welfare schemes with limited resources.