20 years after militancy, bureaucrats keep Chandigarh 'disturbed'

The threat of militancy ended years ago but Chandigarh continues to be tagged a 'disturbed area' -- thanks to the bureaucracy that wants it to be kept this way for its own benefits.

The 'disturbed area' tag was given to Chandigarh, a union territory (UT) and the joint capital of Punjab and Haryana, in 1983 during the years of militancy in Punjab (1981-1992).

This was done to give special powers to the administration and the police and security forces to effectively deal with militancy.

Punjab, however, shed the 'disturbed area' tag in 1997.

Since Punjab was mostly under President's rule during that time, Chandigarh was also brought under the purview of the Punjab governor by making him the UT administrator.

But nearly two decades after militancy was wiped out of Punjab and with no major terror incident taking place in Chandigarh after 1995, the city continues to be a 'disturbed area'.

The matter is now under the purview of the Punjab and Haryana High Court, which Monday admonished the Chandigarh administration for dragging its feet on the issue of removing the tag.

A bench of the high court orally remarked that the bureaucracy did not want the label to go as it suited its interests.

It pointed out that officials posted in Chandigarh were clearly taking advantage of the label to serve their interests.

One reason the bureaucracy here does not want the tag to be removed is that even if posted out of Chandigarh they can retain their government accommodation in the disturbed area and enjoy other benefits, an official in the UT administration told IANS.

The high court bench has now given the administration three weeks to file its reply on why Chandigarh continues to be designated a 'disturbed area'.

Sources in the administration say it had written to the central government to take off the 'disturbed area' tag from Chandigarh but no notification has been issued so far.

The high court took up the issue after Surinder Bhardwaj, a Janata Dal-United (JD-U) leader here, filed a public interest litigation (PIL) in January.

He sought the abolition of the Chandigarh Disturbed Area Act enforced in the union territory. But the administration is yet to file a response.

In his petition, Bhardwaj said tourism to the city, especially by foreign nationals, was getting affected due to the tag.

He said that under the rules, foreign nationals visiting Chandigarh had to obtain special permission.

Chandigarh continues to be headed by the Punjab governor, who also acts as the UT administrator.

Despite demands to revert to the old setup of Chandigarh being headed by a chief commissioner, who is a bureaucrat, the central government has not allowed it.

None of the Punjab governors want to let go the powers of the administrator, said a retired bureaucrat.

In his view, this way they continued to have an upper hand over the city, even while dealing with Punjab and Haryana governments and Chandigarh's VIPs and other influential people.

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