New Delhi: The Haryana government moved a resolution during a special assembly session Tuesday to counter Punjab staking a claim on Chandigarh – the Union Territory which serves as the joint capital of the two states.
The Punjab assembly had passed a resolution Friday urging the Centre to immediately transfer Chandigarh to it, days after Union Home Minister Amit Shah announced that central service rules would apply to the employees of the Union Territory.
The decision to hold the Haryana special session was taken in a cabinet meeting chaired by Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar Sunday. The chief minister had been facing pressure from not just the Opposition, but from within his party and allies, to counter the resolution passed by the Punjab assembly.
“Chandigarh was, is, and will be of Haryana and that no one will be allowed to harm the interests of the state and they are willing to make any sacrifice to protect its interests, including leading a padyatra or any other step in the welfare of the state,” Leader of Opposition and former chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda had said. CM Khattar also reiterated that they will not allow Punjab to “take away Chandigarh”.
The city of Chandigarh was the vision of India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, who wanted it to be a ‘model city for the rest of the world’. Designed by French architect Le Corbusier, the construction of the planned city began in the early 1950s, and most of it was completed in the early 1960s.
Punjab assembly resolution
On 1 April, Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann of the Aam Aadmi Party had appealed to all opposition members in the state assembly to come together for the common cause. The resolution, thus, was passed unanimously in the House, though two BJP legislators, who earlier staged a walkout from the House, remained absent.
The resolution came amid a political row sparked by Amit Shah’s announcement on 28 March that central service rules will apply to Chandigarh employees. Members of all political parties, including Congress, Akali Dal and BSP, in Punjab, termed it “dictatorial and autocratic” and accused the Centre of wanting to “usurp the rights of Punjab over Chandigarh”. The BJP-led Haryana government has so far not commented on Shah’s announcement.
Mann had also accused the Centre of trying to upset the balance in the administration of the Union Territory, which was maintained through common assets like Bhakra Beas Management Board (BBMB) by way of giving management positions to nominees of both Punjab and Haryana in the ratio of 60:40.
“However, recently the central government has posted officers from outside to Chandigarh and has introduced central civil service rules for employees of Chandigarh administration, which goes completely against the understanding in the past,” the resolution stated.
The Union Territory of Chandigarh employees currently work under Punjab service rules. The shift to central rules will bring about changes such as an increase in retirement age of employees from 58 to 60 years along with extension of childcare leave up to two years.
According to the resolution, Chandigarh was created as the capital of Punjab and “in all past precedents whenever a state has been divided, the capital remains with the parent state”. Hence, the resolution made a case for a complete transfer of Chandigarh to Punjab, while also noting that the same resolution has been passed a number of times in the past.
What is Chandigarh’s status?
During the Partition of India, the Punjab province was divided into two – West Punjab (in Pakistan) and East Punjab (in India). In 1950, East Punjab was renamed as the state of Punjab and Chandigarh was made the capital by the Indian government.
In 1966, undivided Punjab was again split on the basis of linguistic differences into Punjabi-speaking Punjab and Hindi-speaking Haryana, while some territories also went to the new hill state of Himachal Pradesh. Both Punjab and Haryana claimed Chandigarh as their capital. At that time, Indira Gandhi had given UT status to Chandigarh to resolve the dispute, but indicated that it was only temporary and that it would be later transferred to Punjab.
In 1976, the Centre had again extended the joint status of Chandigarh, as Punjab and Haryana weren’t ready to budge.
According to the accord signed by PM Rajiv Gandhi and Akali Dal chief Harchand Singh Longowal in 1985, Chandigarh was to be handed over to Punjab in 1986, while some Hindi-speaking towns like Abohar and Fazilka were to be given to Haryana. A sum of Rs 10 crore was also supposed to be given to the state to create its own capital. The accord, however, was never ratified as Longowal was assassinated by Sikh militants, who were opposed to it.
The dispute had continued partly due to the militancy that extended to the mid-1990s in Punjab and because the state wasn’t ready to part with its Hindi-speaking areas. Haryana, also, has always objected to Chanadigarh’s sole association with Punjab as the politicians in the state believed that it is a part of Ambala district and an inseparable part of Haryana.
Even Himachal Pradesh claimed a share of the capital based on a Supreme Court judgment delivered in 2011. According to the order, Himachal Pradesh was entitled to get 7.19 per cent of Chandigarh’s land on the basis of the Punjab Reorganisation Act, 1966.
Implications of the resolution
It is not the first time that the Punjab assembly has not passed this resolution over the Chandigarh issue. They have been passed seven times in the past, mostly by Shiromani Akali Dal-led governments. Over the years, there has been an increasing resentment in Punjab over its declining share in the Chandigarh administration and the posting of more and more central officers there.
Experts believe that this move will not only alter the status of Chandigarh but has the potential to divide the people of Punjab and Haryana, who had come together for the farmers’ movement that concluded with the repeal of the Narendra Modi government’s farm laws.
What experts say
Prof. Pramod Kumar, director at the Institute for Development and Communication (IDC) in Chandigarh said the city is economically, culturally and strategtically important. “Haryana still has Gurugram and Faridabad which are largely functioning as its capital, but Punjab has…always lacked that cultural nerve centre that comes with having a capital,” he said, adding that Punjab loses both economically (since capital states contribute vastly to GDP) and also from not having an identity.
Kumar, however, stated that the Punjab government’s recent action to claim Chandigarh as its capital is a diversionary tactic, deflecting from real Punjab issues like water-sharing problems with its neighbours. He believed that the passing of resolution is “lip-service” and wouldn’t lead to any change since similar resolutions have been passed many times in the past, without any results.
“If they really want Chandigarh as their capital. They should seriously protest,” he added.
Prof. Ronki Ram of Panjab University in Chandigarh added: “The political reaction is such from the (Punjab) government because there is a fear that Centre is trying to directly control Chandigarh. The fear of losing their stake in the UT has led to so much discussion.”
Both the professors welcomed the Centre’s decision to introduce the Central Civil Service Rules among Chandigarh employees saying “it was long due”.
(edited by Monami Gogoi)