Panel for Centre stepping in to check riots
Swaraj Thapa in The Indian Express
Touching upon several significant areas in the working of Centre-state relations, the Justice Madan Mohan Punchhi report submitted recently to the government has made over 200 recommendations. These include radical ones like amending Articles 355 and 356 to enable the Centre to bring specific trouble-torn areas under its rule for a limited period, creation of an overriding structure to maintain internal security along the lines of the US Homeland Security department, giving more teeth to the National Integration Council, and amending the communal violence Bill to allow deployment of Central forces without the state’s consent for a short period.
The report of the commission, set up in April 2007, has been accessed exclusively by The Indian Express. Apart from the above recommendations, the panel has advised critical changes in the role of the governor — including a fixed five-year tenure as well as their removal only through impeachment by the state Assembly. It has also recommended that the state chief minister have a say in the appointment of governor.
The panel also feels that governors should have the right to sanction prosecution of a minister against the advice of the council of ministers. However, it wants the convention of making them chancellors of universities done away with.In finalising the 1,456-page report, in seven volumes, the Punchhi Commission took extensive help from the Justice Sarkaria Commission report, the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution (NCRWC) and the Administrative Reforms Commission report. However, in a number of areas, the Puncchi Commission report differs from the Sarkaria Commission recommendations.
Among the significant suggestions made by the Commission is laying down of clear guidelines for the appointment of chief ministers. Upholding the view that a pre-poll alliance should be treated as one political party, it lays down the order of precedence that ought to be followed by the governor in case of a hung house: a) Call the group with the largest pre-poll alliance commanding the largest number; b) the single largest party with support of others; c) the post-electoral coalition with all parties joining the government; and last d) the post-electoral alliance with some parties joining the government and remaining including Independents supporting from outside.The commission has proposed “localising emergency provisions” under Articles 355 and 356, contending that localised areas — either a district or parts of a district — be brought under Governor’s rule instead of the whole state. Such an emergency provision should however not be of a duration of more than three months, it says.
For the National Integration Council (NIC), the commission has proposed that it should meet at least once a year. In case of any communal incident, it has said that a delegation of five members of the Council, who would be eminent persons, should visit the affected area within two days and submit a fact-finding report. The commission, however, rejects a suggestion from some stakeholders as well as the Liberhan Commission that the NIC be accorded constitutional status.
It has proposed that state consent should not become a hurdle in deployment of central forces in a communal conflagration. However, such deployment should only be for a week and post-facto consent should be taken from the state.As for qualifications for a governor, the Punchhi commission suggests that the nominee not have participated in active politics at even local level for at least a couple of years before his appointment. It also agrees with the Sarkaria recommendation that a governor be an eminent person and not belong to the state where he is to be posted.
This view was also endorsed last week by a Supreme Court five-member bench headed by outgoing Chief Justice of India K G Balakrishnan. Like the verdict, the commission also criticises arbitrary dismissal of governors, saying “the practice of treating governors as political football must stop”.
Underlining that removal of a governor be for a reason related to his discharge of functions, it has proposed provisions for impeachment by the state legislature along the same lines as that of President by Parliament. This, significantly, goes against the doctrine of pleasure upheld by the recent Supreme Court judgment. Endorsing an NCRWC recommendation, it says appointment of governor should be entrusted to a committee comprising the Prime Minister, Home Minister, Speaker of the Lok Sabha and chief minister of the concerned state. The Vice-President can also be involved in the process, it says.
Unlike the Sarkaria report, the Punchhi report is categorical that a governor be given a fixed five-year tenure. The Punchhi Commission report also recommends that a constitutional amendment be brought about to limit the scope of discretionary powers of the governor under Article 163 (2). Governors should not sit on decisions and must decide matters within a four-month period, it says.The commission however supports their right to give sanction prosecution of ministers against the advice of the state government.Asked to comment on the report, V K Duggal, a former member of the commission and now a part of the committee looking into the Telangana issue, said that the Ministry of Home Affairs would be taking necessary action.