Whoever termed all state governors ‘rubber stamps’ probably hasn’t met Kateekal Sankaranarayanan. The Maharashtra governor has been in office since January 22, 2010, after holding the august post in Jharkhand and Nagaland. Before that, he held many positions in Kerala on behalf of Congress — right from district general secretary to PCC chief and a minister. He was convener of the United Democratic Front (UDF) for a record 16 years. So, he has substantial experience to his credit on how a coalition works.
Here in Maharashtra, Sankaranarayanan has been closely observing the activities of the Congress-NCP combine, ruling the state in the form of the Democratic Front government. In recent times, he appears to have become quite dynamic compared to his predecessors. Apart from holding special responsibility to allocate equitable funds for development of three regions — rest of Maharashtra, Marathwada and Vidarbha — under Article 371 (2) of the Constitution, the governor has been scrutinising the decisions of the state government and their implementation.
While supervising disbursal of funds for development of irrigation potential of the state, Mantralaya sources say the governor raised a number of points over the way the state allotted funds for construction of dams and canals in Vidarbha, Thane and Raigad, from where serious allegations pertaining to inflated estimates and unwarranted payments to contractors have come forth. His zealousness appears to have sent worrying signals in the NCP camp, which, through its ministers, has been heading the irrigation department since 1999.
Accordingly, when Sharad Pawar-led NCP mentioned the matter of appointment of governors, among other issues, during its recent standoff with Congress, many eyebrows were raised. There was a buzz in political circles of Mumbai and Delhi that NCP wanted a few posts of governor for its handpicked nominees.
Essentially, NCP’s point was that the party should be consulted while appointing governors. And there are enough reasons. The party was also not happy over the views of Raj Bhavan on the drought-like situation in Western Maharashtra. NCP wanted funds — setting aside rules — to complete some projects that can help scarcity-hit areas. In the past, ex-governor Mohammed Fazal had been more accommodating in a similar situation.
Furthermore, Sankara-narayanan has since last year not given his decision on the bill pertaining to self-financed or private universities, passed by the state legislature. The bone of contention is the demand towards creation of a quota for reserved-category students by some prominent leaders from the state. The department of higher and technical education is headed by NCP minister Rajesh Tope, who is keen to have this bill passed. His department argued that no reservation could be offered in private universities as those interested in starting such institutions may not be happy with it.
Also, an important sticking point has been the fact that reservations do not exist in other states where such universities exist.
Not only NCP, Congress too has suffered some jolts over issues such as the Maharashtra Housing Bill, approved by the state legislature during the monsoon session held in July. The bill has a provision for setting up a housing regulatory authority, which will allow hapless hone buyers to seek early redressal. The governor sought some clarification after a delegation of Mumbai Grahak Panchayat met him with a demand to refer back the bill to the state legislature.
Another little known fact is that the Prithviraj Chavan-led government has started dispatching minutes of the weekly cabinet meetings to Raj Bhavan, under clause 26(7) of the government business rules. Such was not the practice earlier as no previous government bothered to do this.
On June 21, soon after learning about the Mantralaya fire, the governor spent no time in visiting the state headquarters, ignoring advice by traffic police and administration. One hopes Sankaranarayanan will question the right people about this mishap, and also the violence at Azad Maidan that went completely out of control at least for some time. And if he can get the answers, citizens would be applauding him wholeheartedly.
— The writer is Political Editor, MiD DAY