Chandigarh, Sep 25 (IANS) With the Punjab and Haryana High Court striking down a government notification that had classified Chandigarh as a "disturbed area" for over a quarter of a century, a debate has started in the union territory (UT) on whether the Punjab governor should continue to be its administrator or there should be someone who is more accessible to its citizens.
Surinder Bhardwaj, president of the local unit of the Janata Dal-United (JD-U) and petitioner in the disturbed area case, now wants to take the fight a notch higher.
"We will now fight to get the post of UT administrator abolished. We will file the case soon," Bhardwaj said following last week's high court ruling.
With the disturbed area tag removed, the clamour among Chandigarh's intelligentsia and residents to get the union territory freed from the hold of the UT administrator, has increased. Punjab Governor Shivraj Patil currently holds this charge as was done by all his predecessors in the past nearly three decades.
But residents say the administrator is not accessible, ensconced as he remains in a colonial style bungalow near the famed Sukhna Lake, far removed from the city's day to day issues.
People in the city have no direct access to the UT administrator. Though Patil, as some of his predecessors, holds public hearing sessions, these are very restricted and get cancelled on a number of occasions. The turnout of public at these sessions remains low as their grievances are not heard properly and follow-up action is poor.
There are voices saying that the post of UT administrator be abolished and the city revert to the old system -- of being headed by a chief commissioner, who will be a bureaucrat, and possibly more accessible.
Municipal councillor Pradeep Chhabra said: "The UT administrator's post should be abolished immediately. The city should be headed by a chief commissioner who is answerable to city residents. THe chief commissioner system worked so well till 1984."
Former Punjab director general of police (DGP) K.P.S. Gill, who spearheaded the fight against terrorism in Punjab, said that removal of the disturbed area tag was "long overdue".
"Chandigarh has a peaceful environment now. There is no relevance of the disturbed area tag now," Gill, who himself enjoys Z-plus category security cover, said during a private visit here.
The high court quashed the nearly 26-year-old notification of the Chandigarh administration, which declared Chandigarh a "disturbed area", and termed the continuance of the tag on the city a "blot" and completely "unjustified".
The disturbed area notification was first issued in December 1986, followed by another one in December 1991. This was done as incidents in neighbouring Punjab, which was a hotbed of Sikh militancy (1981-1992), had their fallout in Chandigarh - the joint capital of Punjab and Haryana.
"There is no ground to give draconian powers to forces to take the life of any individual under the garb of the provisions of the Disturbed Area tag," the high court ruled in its order last Tuesday.
The division bench of acting Chief Justice Jasbir Singh and Justice Rakesh Kumar Jain observed that "worse conditions" were prevailing in other states but they had not been declared as "disturbed areas".
Within hours of the high court order, Punjab Governor and Chandigarh Administrator Shivraj Patil said:" The court has quashed the disturbed area tag of Chandigarh and we have to follow the same. However, in future if an untoward incident happens, we cannot say anything about it...
"The tag was retained for some reason, including reports from the intelligence agencies regarding infiltration from bordering areas, and there were security concerns for the city."
With the latest ruling, the city could be headed towards freeing itself from some official trappings that the power-wielding bureaucracy and political functionaries forced on it for their vested interests. One reason why the bureaucracy here opposed the removal of the disturbed area tag was that they could avail themselves of benefits like official accommodation and security.
The disturbed area tag was given to the city in 1986 during the years of militancy in Punjab. This was done to give special powers to the administration and the police and security forces to deal effectively with terrorism.
The state of Punjab, where the terrorism actually was, shed the disturbed area tag in 1997 itself but Chandigarh continued with it.
The Chandigarh administration had opposed Bhardwaj's public interest litigation (PIL) saying that it could not "lower the guard" on this issue involving security. But the bench ruled that Chandigarh was better off with its 'City Beautiful' tag.
(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at email@example.com)