Chhattisgarh government, Governor locked in showdown over six pending bills

The long-running confrontation between the Bhupesh Baghel-led Congress government and the Governor in Chhattisgarh does not show any signs of abating.

A major issue of discord between the Baghel government and Governor Anusuiya Uikey has been the point that half a dozen bills passed by the state Assembly have been pending in the Raj Bhawan since 2020. The Governor has not given her assent to these bills while invoking her constitutional position.

Speaking to The Indian Express, Governor Uikey made it clear that she did not want to be just a signing authority. “I have always taken interest in governance policies and I like to do my own research. The general expectations from a Governor is just to sign on all the decisions taken by the state government. But, I have constitutional powers vested in me, which I am going to use as per my abilities,” she said.

On the six bills hanging fire for months, Uikey said, “These are all bills that go against the decisions taken by the Lok Sabha or other governing bodies. To make constitutional changes, I need to take advice from my legal department and other departments. In some matters, I have reached out to the President’s Office to find out what is the best course forward. All of this takes time.”

The six bills include the Chhattisgarh Krishi Upaj Mandi Adhiniyam (Amendments) Bill, which made amendments in the state’s farm laws. This bill, passed by the Chattisgarh Assembly in October 2020, termed the entire state as a “Mandi” (market) to negate the central farm laws, which have been repealed by Parliament during the last winter session.

The Governor said that since the amendments were made to central laws, she could not have cleared such a state law without due consideration. “If there’s a central legislation, how can a state bill go against it? My legal department had studied it. But now, there’s no need for this bill as the central farm laws have been repealed,” she said.

The other five pending bills include the Mahatma Gandhi Udyaniki Evam Vaniki Vishvavidyalaya Adhiniyam (Amendment) Bill, CG Kushabhau Thakre Journalism and Communication University (Amendment) Bill, Pandit Sundarlal Sharma Open University (Amendment) Bill, Chhattisgarh University (Amendment) Bill, and Indira Kala Sangeet Vishvavidyalaya Adhiniyam (Amendment) Bill.

These bills, passed by the Chhattisgarh Assembly in March 2020, provide that instead of the Chancellor (Governor) deciding the appointment of the Vice Chancellors (VCs) in these varsities, the Cabinet will appoint their VCs for “better management” of the educational institutions.

Governor Uikey said that such a legislative provision goes against the University Grants Commission (UGC) guidelines, norms and also against the constitutional powers of the Governor. “I have urged the President and also asked UGC officials for their views on such a bill,” she said.

Sources in the Congress government, however, charge that Uikey, an appointee of the BJP-led central government, has been “interfering in every matter and making things complicated for political reasons” for a long time.

“Shouldn’t the state government have a say in who the Vice Chancellors of our universities be? We can’t let right-wing ideologues hold positions in institutions and have an adverse impact on education. However, the Governor is not allowing it,” a government source said.

The confrontation between the Baghel government and Governor Uikey started in March 2020 over the appointment of Baldev Sharma, an editor of RSS mouthpiece Panchjanya and biographer of former RSS sarsanghchalak K S Sudarashan, as the VC of the Kushabhau Thakre University of Journalism and Mass Communication, Raipur.

Their differences have been fuelled by several issues in recent months. Uikey, who recently launched a Raj Bhawan website complete with a 360 degree aerial view of the building complex, has been pro-actively meeting tribal protesters from Sarguja to Sukma over the last few moths, and assuring them of redressal of their various grievances. She has also followed it up by writing to the state government on matters ranging from the Hasdeo Aranya coal mining to the conversion of Nagar Panchayats into Gram Panchayats in tribal areas.

“The state government is converting villages into Nagar Panchayats, which makes rules of Panchayat (Extension of the Scheduled Areas) Act (PESA) inapplicable for them. Several tribal villages have been protesting against this, and I have written to the government too. I am looking into what legal recourse I have if the government refuses to listen,” Uikey said.

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