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Post at: May 13 2022

Chandigarh ‘Question’

Recent Context

  • In April 2022, the Punjab Legislative Assembly passed a resolution seeking immediate transfer of Chandigarh to the state.
  • The dispute flared up after the centre notified Central Service Rules for employees in the UT instead of the Punjab Service Rules.

How did Chandigarh come to its current status?

  • Chandigarh, described as a ‘planned city’ emblematic of ‘Nehruvian modernity’, is a greenfield city, which was commissioned by the government, as the capital of of Punjab. 
  • Designed by Le Corbusier in association with Pierre Jeanneret, it is located on the foothills of the Shivalik Himalayas on village land acquired from what was then the Kharar tehsil of Ambala district. 
  • It was the capital of undivided Punjab from its inauguration in 1953 till 1966. 
  • Under the Punjab Reorganisation Act, 1966 following the Punjabi Suba movement, Haryana was carved out of the Hindi-speaking regions as a separate State while the hill regions of Punjab were merged with what was then the Union Territory (UT) of Himachal Pradesh. 
  • Chandigarh was made a UT and has remained the joint capital of Haryana and Punjab with State assets divided between Punjab and Haryana in the ratio of 60:40.

What is the Chandigarh issue?

  • Since 1966, the lack of full rights to its capital has remained a vexed issue in Punjab politics. 
  • All the governments and most political parties of Punjab have regularly raised the demand for Chandigarh. 
  • It has featured in all major developments, whether it is the 1973 Anandpur Sahib resolution, Dharam Yudh Morcha (of Akali Dal with J.S. Bhindranwale) and the 1985 Rajiv-Longowal Accord. 
  • Since 1966, the Punjab Assembly has passed at least six such resolutions with the last being in 2014 under the Shiromani Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party (SAD-BJP) government. 

What is different this time?

  • In February, the Centre amended the rules governing the functioning of the Bhakra Beas Management Board (BBMB), constituted under the 1966 Act, changing the eligibility criteria for the two full-time members of the Board which have, though technically open to all Indian officials, by convention gone to officials from Punjab and Haryana.
  • Officers from the two States may not be able to meet the new eligibility criteria given the technical qualifications specified. 
  • All stakeholders in Punjab and Haryana have objected to this move though Haryana CM Manohar Lal Khattar was more muted in his response. 
  • Second, in  March 2022, the  Union Home Minister has  issued a notification bringing Chandigarh UT administration employees under the Central Services Rules with effect from April 1, 2022 replacing the Punjab Services Rules. 

What has been the position of the Union government on the city?

  • At the time of the 1966 Act, the then Prime Minister indicated that the UT status to Chandigarh was temporary and that it would be transferred to Punjab. 
  • According to the 1985 Rajiv-Longowal Accord, Chandigarh was to be handed over to Punjab on January 26, 1986 but this never fructified after the assassination of Longowal and the long period of militancy till the mid-1990s. 
  • The recent developments could thus indicate a shift in the Central government’s position.

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