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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Punchhi Commission

The Punchhi Commission on Centre – State relation was constituted on April 28, 2007 by the UPA government, under the chairmanship of former Chief Justice of India Justice Madan Mohan Punchhi, which submitted its report on April 20, 2010. The Punchhi commission made very pertinent observations regarding the qualifications, appointment and removal of governors. As for qualifications pertaining to governor, the Punchhi Commission was forthright in suggesting that the nominee should not have participated in active politics at even local level for at least a couple of years prior to his appointment.

Originally, it had four members: Justice Punchhi (Chairman), former Home Secretaries Dhirendra Singh and V K Duggal, and former Bangalore-based Law School Director Prof. N R Madhava Menon. Later, Dr. Amaresh Bagchi, Professor Emeritus and former Director of the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy (NIPFP) was also made a member of the Commission. 

The Commission for Centre-State Relations headed by Justice Madan Mohan Punchhi has submitted its report to the Central government without much fanfare. This is a contradiction to the Liberhan Commission Report which was "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing" and which wasted 15 years. 

A comprehensive review of Centre-State Relations was undertaken by the Sarkaria Commission in the mid-eighties. In the two decades that have gone by both the polity and economy have undergone profound changes, posing new challenges for government at all levels and calling for a fresh look at the relative roles and responsibilities of each level and their inter-relations. The present Commission has been entrusted with this task and asked to make recommendations that would help to address the emerging challenges.

The major recommendations may be enumerated as follows

1. There should be an amendment in Articles 355 and 356 to enable the Centre to bring specific trouble-torn areas under its rule for a limited period.

2. 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 duration of more than three months.

3. The commission however supports their right to give sanction for the prosecution of ministers against the advice of the state government.

4. To make an amendment in the communal violence Bill to allow deployment of Central forces without the state’s consent for a short period. 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.

5. 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 prepoll 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 postelectoral alliance with some parties joining the government and remaining including Independents supporting from outside.

6. 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.

7. 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 belongs to the state where he is to be posted.

8. The commission also criticises arbitrary dismissal of governors, saying, “the practice of treating governors as political football must stop”. There should be critical changes in the role of the governor — including 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.

9. 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.

10. 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.

11. Unlike the Sarkaria report, the Punchhi report is categorical that a governor be given 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.

12. The 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.

13. 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 National debate and submit a fact-finding report.

14. The commission, however, rejects a suggestion from some stakeholders as well as the Liberhan Commission that the NIC be accorded constitutional status.

15. The commission has also studied new set-ups like the National Investigation Agency, and recommended procedures to ensure smooth co-operation of the states in terror investigations entrusted to NIA. One can say that the extreme politicization of the post of Governor must be decried and certain specific norms for the appointment and removal have to be evolved.

16. The recent ruling of the Supreme Court has indicated that the sanctity of this constitutional post should be preserved.

In democracy, nobody can have absolute power in the name of smooth administration and good governance. The administrative apparatus has to be in the line of the constitution, which was prepared by the people of the country and amended by the elected representative of the people of India. The 'doctrine of pleasure' has to be understood in this light.
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