Himachal stakes claim to Chandigarh, puts BJP in a tight spot 

Jai Ram Thakur’s claim has put fellow BJP CM Manohar Lal Khattar in an awkward position. It will be interesting to watch the BJP’s position since it is in office both in Himachal Pradesh and Haryana

The tussle between Punjab and Haryana over their joint capital, the Union Territory (UT) of Chandigarh dates back to the reorganisation of 1966 when Joint Punjab was carved up into the three states of Haryana, Punjab and Himachal Pradesh (HP).
The third party in the negotiations, HP, was happy to have the ‘queen of the Hills’ Shimla as its Capital and stay out of the contest over Chandigarh. But no more.

The Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) new chief minister, Jai Ram Thakur, recently (April 18) has said that his State too had a share in Chandigarh’s land and that it would press its claim soon. The announcement is likely to enliven the politics these these states, two of which (Haryana and HP) are now ruled by the BJP.

From 1966 onwards both Punjab and Haryana have staked claim to the ‘show piece of modern India’ as Chandigarh was regarded. While the fight for Chandigarh continues up to this day between the two States, a certain weariness has crept into the issue. One important reason is perhaps the dwindling political returns it has yielded over the years. Another reason is that most people have reconciled to the idea of a joint Capital over a 50-year period. Thirdly, the bureaucracy of both states more than happy with the status quo as it makes them into virtual VIPs in the UT’s administration.

No wonder that Thakur’s announcement, made to stunned journalists at the Chandigarh Press Club, set off alarms in political circles. Not just Chandigarh, the HP chief minister also spoke of taking the State’s share of electricity from the Bhakra Nangal and Beas river projects.

The basis of his claim is a September 27 2011 judgement of the Supreme Court which held that HP was entitled to 7.19 % share of power generated from these projects with effect from November 1 1966. Both Punjab and Haryana appealed against the Apex court’s decision, but the appeals were rejected on March 29 2012. Since then no one in HP worked seriously to get these decisions implemented.

While Punjab and Haryana claim the entire city of Chandigarh for their Capital, Thakur is asking for only 7.19 % land in the UT on the basis of the Punjabi-speaking population of HP. As for the power projects, Punjab and Haryana owe Rs 2,200 crore as royalty for power generated since 1966 from the power projects located in HP.

“The case was not taken up seriously in the past but now we would like to take it up soon,” Thakur said.

His surprise stance will add a new dimension to the ongoing dispute between Punjab and Haryana. For long politicians in both states have used the issue to whip up regional sentiments. Come elections, it is dutifully mentioned in the manifestos of political parties that if they win, they will do their best to get Chandigarh for their people. Not just the city of Chandigarh, Punjab and Haryana have not even been able to arrive at an amicable settlement over sharing of river waters. The matter of Haryana getting its share of waters from Ravi and Beas rivers through the half-constructed Sutlej Yamuna Link (SYL) canal is an emotive issue over which farmers of both states are repeatedly instigated into agitations by political parties.

At present, the officers in the Chandigarh Administration are drawn from the bureaucracies of Punjab and Haryana and are posted in a 60:40 ratio. Thakur has also said that he would like HP officials too to be posted to Chandigarh on deputation according to its share.

The only reaction to Thakur’s statement so far has come from Indian National Lok Dal whose leader Abhay Singh Chautala who said Chandigarh belongs to Haryana. “We will not allow any claim over Chandigarh until the SYL issue is resolved,” he said. With Haryana being currently ruled by the BJP, Thakur’s claim has put the state’s chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar in an awkward position. Given the shrill and emotional reactions which usually come from Haryana leaders whenever there is talk of transferring Chandigarh to Punjab, Khattar’s silence is telling. How the BJP will balance the conflicting interests of these two neighbouring states will be interesting to watch.

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