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Mann-Purohit tussle exposes fault lines between nominal, elected heads

IANS | March 12, 2023 12:51 PM

CHANDIGARH: The escalating tussle between the state's constitutional head and the democratically elected one in Punjab often leads to outbursts publicly and also brings to the fore the role of the nominal head in relation to the elected government and legislature.

The latest face-off that might turn into a constitutional crisis in the border state was Governor Banwari Lal Purohit's refusal to summon the budget session of the assembly from March 3.

It finally ended in the apex court that observed that the Governor was duty-bound to follow the advice of the state cabinet.

A Bench led by Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud, however, disapproved of the conduct of both Governor Purohit and Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann of the AAP for letting political differences come in the way of discharging their constitutional duties.

The Bench was also categorically clear in saying that the Chief Minister was also duty-bound to furnish information sought by the Governor.

Finally, the budget session is currently underway.

This was the not the first time that the battle escalated between the Governor and the Chief Minister.

The former has been accused of summoning top state functionaries on a regular basis and slamming the government for its failure to check the illicit flow of drugs and allowing its jails to become safe havens for gangsters.

After a recent two-day tour along the India-Pakistan border, Purohit, who says he's the state's executive head, told the media, "Jails are being used by criminals to run their mafias. Mobile phones are easily available in jails."

He lamented that policemen themselves were struggling with drug addiction. "If the government is unable to deal with the situation, it should openly ask for help from the Centre."

Purohit claimed that sarpanches have informed him that drugs are being sold like ration in villages.

In the past one year, the Governor has been at loggerheads with the government on several occasions and issues ranging from the appointment of noted cardiologist Gurpreet Singh Wander as Vice-Chancellor of Baba Farid University of Health Sciences in Faridkot town to the repatriation of IPS officer Kuldeep Chahal to his parent Punjab cadre.

The fallout of the "war of supremacy" is that Baba Farid University of Health Sciences, the state's nodal agency for medical admissions and examinations, has been functioning without a full-time Vice-Chancellor for eight months now.

Purohit, in his capacity as chancellor of the state universities, in October last refused to clear the appointment of Wander as Vice-Chancellor, asking the government to shortlist a panel of three candidates.

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government has failed to recommend a panel of three names to the Governor for the post that fell vacant after one of the country's top orthopaedic surgeons, Raj Bahadur, resigned on July 30 after citing humiliation by then Health Minister Chetan Singh Jouramajra.

Another "breakdown of the governor-cabinet relationship" is the long wait for Purohit's assent to the bill passed by the legislature regarding the regularisation of services of contractual employees.

Sensing that the Governor is keeping the Punjab Protection and Regularisation of Contractual Employees Bill in abeyance without "declaring" his intent, the Cabinet opted for the non-legislative route -- it has approved a policy by framing a separate cadre under which the services of contractual, ad hoc, daily wage and temporary teachers having 10 years of experience will be regularised.

There are around 35, 000 contractual and temporary employees in different government departments and the government is regularising their services in phases.

The Cabinet on February 21 decided to regularise the services of 14, 417 ad hoc and contractual employees of various departments. The services of 13, 000 employees have already been regularised.

Believing the Governor is a key intermediary in the Centre-state relationship, a senior AAP functionary privy to the development told IANS that he should grant assent to the legislations "to uphold the spirit of the Constitution and the sentiments of the people of Punjab."

The latest stalemate hit a new high when the Governor questioned the governments' decisions, citing lack of transparency in selecting teachers for sending them to Singapore for training, and choosing to ignore all misdeeds of senior police officer Kuldeep Singh Chahal.

In a missive to the Chief Minister, Purohit also questioned the appointment of a "tainted" person as chairperson of Punjab Infotech, saying he was accused in property grabbing and kidnapping cases.

Expressing anguish, senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi informed the Bench comprising Chief Justice D.Y. Chandrachud and Justice P.S. Narasimha, "The governor is supposed to function as per the Constitution. If the governor, if he goes by discretion, budget session would not convene. Does he understand the meaning of budget session?"

"Is this the way the Governor is supposed to act? He has hijacked the Constitution, " Singhvi said.

The apex court, while hearing the petition on February 28 filed by the state, also criticized both the Governor and the Chief Minister for dereliction.

The Bench observed, "As per Article 167, the Governor is entitled to seek the information from the government and the government is supposed to give such information. And when the Cabinet has given an advice to summon the session, the Governor is bound by that."

Again missing no opportunity to take "potshots", Governor Purohit, in his address on the opening day of the budget session of the Vidhan Sabha, advised Chief Minister Mann and the legislators to maintain transparency not just in public life, but also in private life.

"Total transparency should be not only with respect to one's public life. I will go one step further. This transparency has to be there in your private life also. Why not? You are the ideals, the leaders of society and you should be transparent in your personal life as well, " the Governor said, while departing briefly from the tradition of reading a pre-scripted speech.

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