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Transfer of Chandigarh to Punjab: AAP government’s flashpoint with Centre

Transfer of Chandigarh to Punjab: AAP government’s flashpoint with Centre

The AAP government convened a special session of the assembly on Friday and upped the ante by moving a resolution demanding the immediate transfer of Chandigarh to Punjab

The decision to extend the central service rules to employees of the Union Territory of Chandigarh, replacing Punjab service rules from April 1, has triggered the first major flashpoint between the Bhagwant Mann-led Aam Aadmi Party government and the BJP-led Centre. The Punjab cabinet convened a special session of the assembly on Friday and upped the ante by moving a resolution demanding the immediate transfer of Chandigarh to Punjab.

HT Correspondents Munieshwer A. Sagar and Gurpreet Singh Nibber decode the controversy and what it means for Punjab:

Why the political controversy?

The announcement by Union home minister Amit Shah to extend the central service rules to employees of the Union Territory of Chandigarh has raised apprehensions in Punjab’s political circles that the state’s claim on Chandigarh will be diluted.

The political parties in Punjab, including the ruling AAP, Congress and Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), termed the move as infringement of Punjab’s rights, attack on federalism and long-term loss for Punjabi language.

The change in rules also comes close on the heels of Punjab’s objections to the alleged “diminishment” of Punjab-cadre officers in the UT administration. Punjab had taken serious exception to the appointment of an AGMUT-cadre officer to the post of the CITCO managing director, which it considers reserved for a Punjab-cadre officer. While it maintains that UT is to be manned by Punjab and Haryana officers in the 60:40 ratio, UT officials argue that there is no statutory stipulation on this.

However, BJP leaders, including former MP Satya Pal Jain, have contended that new service rules will not impact status of Chandigarh vis-à-vis Punjab.

In 2016, the Centre’s move to appoint retired bureaucrat KJ Alphons as Chandigarh administrator, splitting the post from Punjab governor, was put on hold after objection from the then SAD government in Punjab. Since 1984, the Punjab governor is also UT administrator.

What the shift means for Punjab and Chandigarh?

The feeling in Punjab is that such decisions will gradually weaken state’s claim over Chandigarh which was carved on the state land and for the state as a capital city, so the state government has demanded immediate transfer of Chandigarh to the state, as its capital.

The state government says what was the need for the change (in service rules) at this stage as there was no demand from the employees. It apprehends that with increase in the perks and extension in retirement age to 60 years, the state employees might also raise similar demand.

Also, state employees who work in Chandigarh on deputation and their counterparts back in the state will face pay disparity. According to a state government official, Union Territory status to Chandigarh is a temporary arrangement and the move will complicate transfer of capital city to Punjab.

According to SAD’s Manpreet Singh Ayali, the March 27 announcement is a direct attack on Punjabi language as it is not mandatory under the central service rules to have knowledge of Punjabi.

“Against the Punjab and Haryana employees’ proportion of 60:40, as per the Punjab reorganisation act, it’s actually is 12:8 now, as rest 80% are the direct recruits in the UT,” he added.

For Chandigarh, while earlier the 16,000-odd UT employees had service conditions similar to those in Punjab, now they have been brought on par with central employees. Over the years, though, some central regulation had already been adopted. Most UT employee unions, particularly teachers and nurses, have welcomed the move, but some have argued against it. The shift in rules does not cover the around 20,000 outsourced and contractual employees, eliciting criticism from them.

Resolution passed by Punjab Vidhan Sabha

In a unanimous resolution passed by the state assembly today, the move was opposed and the house recommended the state government to raise the matter with the Central government to immediately transfer Chandigarh to Punjab.

Referring to Punjab reorganisation act, it adds that Chandigarh administration has always been managed by the officers of Punjab and Haryana in 60:40 ratio.

“However, recently Central government has posted outside officers to Chandigarh and has introduced central civil service rules for the employees of Chandigarh which goes against the understanding in the past,” reads the resolution.

Changes from here on

The retirement age will increase from 58 to 60 years. Child care leave for women employees will increase from one to two years, school principals will get 30 earned leaves instead of eight and vice-principal’s post will be created in schools. Children education allowance of 2,250 per month will be provided for up to two children, medical expenses will be reimbursed on submission of bills instead of a fixed per month amount, gratuity may increase by 25% whenever dearness allowance increases by 50% and conveyance allowance will be increased as per the pay grade. Pay scales will be upgraded after 10, 20 and 30 years of service, and new recruits on probation will get full pay.

The age of recruitment changes from 18-37 years to 18-27 years, which some unions have termed as reduction in job opportunities. Notably, the recruitment age was increased only recently after the intervention of Chandigarh MP Kirron Kher.

Will pay scales be affected?

While in some categories, like teachers and nurses, the central pay scales are better, in most other departments, like police, salaries are better under the Punjab service rules.

But the UT administrator has the power to decide the pay scales under the new notification, giving employee unions a ray of hope that the higher pay scales will be maintained.

What about deputations?

The change in service rules will not impact deputations from other states. Officers and employees on deputation get benefits as per their parent cadre. There will be no change in number of deputations either, senior UT officials maintain, with one officer stating, “these are unrelated issues.”

The political leaders in today’s special session termed the move as an attack on nation’s federal structure and put forward suggestions to launch an agitation, take an all-party delegation to the Centre and also explore the legal recourse.

CM Bhagwant Mann while concluding the debate in the house called upon the house to launch an agitation and take up the matter with the President, Prime Minister and the Home Minister.

According to Congress’ Partap Singh Bajwa, the matter be taken up with the Prime Minister for reversal of the decision, while Sukhpal Khaira suggested the house to look for legal options and offered to fight against the Centre’s unilateral decision.

Bahujan Samaj party’s Nachhatar Pal termed it a violation of the Constitution, however, Bharatiya Janta Party’s Ashwani Sharma favoured the move as the decision was applicable from 1966 to 1986 and further extended for five years to 1991 and later was shifted on Punjab pattern when state offered higher salaries. “There is no infringement of Punjab’s rights,” he said.

©Hindustan Times

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