The Punjab chief minister moved a resolution in the Assembly, seeking the immediate transfer of Chandigarh to Punjab. Why is the spotlight back on the Union Territory?
“Will fight for claim over Chandigarh,” Punjab chief minister Bhagwant Mann had said last week after Union Home Minister Amit Shah announced that central services rules will be implemented for all employees in Chandigarh. Mann has stuck to his word. The newly inducted CM moved a resolution during a special session of the Vidhan Sabha on Friday, demanding an immediate transfer of Chandigarh to Punjab.
What does this mean for the state? And what’s the age-old fight over Chandigarh all about? We take a look.
Reigniting the fight
“For maintaining harmony and taking the sentiments of people into account, this House once again recommends to the state government to raise the matter with the central government to immediately transfer Chandigarh to Punjab,” according to the resolution moved by Mann in the state Assembly.
“Punjab was reorganised through the Punjab Reorganisation Act, 1966, wherein, the state of Punjab was reorganised into the state of Haryana, Union Territory of Chandigarh, and some parts of Punjab were given to the then Union Territory of Himachal Pradesh. Since then, a balance was maintained in the administration of common assets like the Bhakra Beas Management Board by way of giving management positions in some proportion to the nominees of the state of Punjab and state of Haryana,” Mann said while moving the resolution, reports The Indian Express.
“Through many of its recent actions, the Centre has been trying to upset this balance,” he added.
Punjab Assembly | Punjab CM Bhagwant Mann moves resolution against Centre’s decision to put Chandigarh under Central service rules
Mann proposed the Central government to transfer Chandigarh to Punjab pic.twitter.com/iWpGiahTiO
— ANI (@ANI) April 1, 2022
During the ongoing debate, MLAs from the ruling Aam Aadmi Party, Congress and the Shiromani Akali Dal said that after this “attack” by the BJP-led Centre, they apprehended that the next attack would be on the waters of Punjab and the state’s riparian rights will be violated, reports The Tribune.
Punjab’s grouse against the Centre
The Chandigarh issue is back in focus after Amit Shah’s visited the state, post the Punjab election results, and announced on 28 March that central service rules will apply to employees of the Union Territory of Chandigarh.
Until now Punjab service rules applied to employees in Chandigarh. With the switch to central rules, the retirement age of employees in the Union territory increases from 58 to 60 years, and women employees are now eligible for childcare leave of two years instead of one.
प्रधानमंत्री @narendramodi जी ने चंडीगढ़ प्रशासन के सभी कर्मचारियों की सेवा की शर्तों को केंद्रीय सिविल सेवाओं के साथ जोड़ने का महत्वपूर्ण निर्णय लेकर चंडीगढ़ प्रशासन की बहुत लंबे समय से चली आ रही मांग को पूरा किया है और जल्द ही इसका नोटिफिकेशन भी निकल जायेगा। pic.twitter.com/2tmO7Cdzwk
— Amit Shah (@AmitShah) March 27, 2022
The announcement rattled politicians in Punjab, who believe that these developments are a violation of the Reorganisation Act. “This goes against the letter and spirit of Punjab Reorganisation Act 1966. Punjab will fight strongly for its rightful claim over Chandigarh…,” Mann had tweeted.
Central Govt has been stepwise imposing officers and personnel from other states and services in Chandigarh administration. This goes against the letter and spirit of Punjab Reorganisation Act 1966. Punjab will fight strongly for its rightful claim over Chandigarh…
— Bhagwant Mann (@BhagwantMann) March 28, 2022
Even Congress and the Akali Dali are on the same page as the ruling Aam Aadmi Party.
Punjab Congress MLA Sukhpal Singh Khaira criticised the Centre’s “dictatorial decision” and said it was a move “to usurp the rights of Punjab over Chandigarh”. He had said that Chandigarh belonged to Punjab and the unilateral decision was not only a direct attack on federalism but also an attack on the state’s share of 60 per cent control over the Union Territory.
Akali Dal’s Daljit Singh Cheema wrote on Twitter, “MOH’s (Ministry of Home Affairs) decision to impose central government rules on employees of Chandigarh is in violation of the spirit of the Punjab Reorg (Reorganisation) Act and must be reconsidered.”
What is the Punjab (Reorganisation) Act?
From 1952 to 1966, when Haryana was carved out of Punjab, Chandigarh remained the capital of Punjab. In 1966, the state was divided into Punjab and Haryana with some parts coming under Himachal Pradesh.
Both Punjab and Haryana staked claim to Chandigarh as the capital. The Centre declared Chandigarh as a Union Territory, pending a resolution. As per the Punjab Reorganisation Act, 1966, Chandigarh was to be governed by the Centre, but laws in force in undivided Punjab applied to the UT, according to a report in The Indian Express. The properties in Chandigarh were to be divided in a 60:40 ratio in favour of Punjab.
During the reorganisation, the city of Chandigarh assumed the unusual distinction of being the capital of Punjab and Haryana.
The Bhakra Beas Management Board and the 6:40 ratio
While addressing the state Assembly, Mann mentioned the Bhakra Beas Management Board (BBM), which regulates the supply of water and power to Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Delhi and Chandigarh. Recently, the Centre revised the rules for the appointment of member (power) and member (irrigation), who were from Punjab and Haryana respectively and said that they can now be picked from anywhere in the country.
The Punjab CM also spoke about the 60:40 ratio, where the Chandigarh administration has been managed by officers from Punjab and Haryana. He complained that the Centre has “posted officers from outside in Chandigarh”, which “goes completely against the understanding in the past”.
Why is the Centre meddling in Chandigarh?
In the state Assembly election, the BJP suffered a big loss, winning only two seats. Similarly, in the municipal elections held in Chandigarh in December, the party was routed by the AAP, which grabbed 14 seats from it. Of the 35 seats in the Chandigarh civic body, the BJP bagged 12, down from its previous tally of 20 seats.
With two dismal performances, the party is doing all it can to woo those in the Union Territory, considered a BJP stronghold, ahead of the 2024 general elections.
Punjab’s long-standing claim to Chandigarh
In the past, the House has passed several resolutions urging the Centre to transfer Chandigarh to Punjab, Mann said on Friday.
The claim for Chandigarh dates back to the time when Indira Gandhi was the prime minister. She had promised that Haryana would get its own capital and Chandigarh would go to Punjab. The Centre had even issued a formal communication in this regard on January 29, 1970, reports The Indian Express. But it was not acted upon.
In 1985, under the Rajiv-Longowal accord, Chandigarh was to be handed over to Punjab on January 26, 1986, but the Rajiv Gandhi government withdrew at the last minute, the report says.
The 1970 documents suggest various alternatives including dividing Chandigarh. But that was not practical since it’s a planned city. Haryana was asked to use offices in Chandigarh for five years and was even given a grant of Rs 10 crore to set up its capital. However, it continues its operations from the UT.
In 2020, Haryana passed a resolution in the Vidhan Sabha demanding 20 rooms in the complex that have been in the possession of Punjab.
The two states share a common building in the Capitol Complex of Chandigarh city, which houses both their assembly halls.
Since the fresh controversy emerged after Amit Shah’s announcement, Harayana, which has a BJP government in power, has remained silent.
However, Mann’s resolution is likely to revive the old turf war.
With inputs from agencies