Monday, June 16, 2008

LDF differences turn governance into spectator sport

When Justice S.Siri Jagan of the Kerala high court takes up the Golf Club case again, he will have before him two affidavits filed by different officials of the State government, making contradictory claims.

In an affidavit, filed on Friday, U. Shajimon, Under Secretary in the Law department, said Revenue Principal Secretary Nivedita P.Haran had made false statements in her affidavit, filed earlier in the week.
Obviously, both of the officials cannot be right. Justice Siri Jagan has the onerous task of distilling the truth from their sworn statements.

According to Food and Civil Supplies Minister C. Divakaran, this is a matter between two officers, and the government will not get involved in it. Actually, however, this is not a matter between two officials, but one between two departments of the government.

At the political level, it is also a matter between the Communist Party of India (Marxist), which heads the ruling Left Democratic Front, and the CPI, the second largest constituent of the coalition. Revenue Minister KP Rajendran, who belongs to the CPI, endorses the contents of the Revenue Secretary's affidavit. Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan and Law Minister M. Vijayakumar, both of whom belong to the CPI-M, support the Law official's affidavit.

The war of affidavits is the latest episode in the serial drama touched off by the administration's ham-handed attempt to take over the Trivandrum Golf Club.
The club, located on government property, was closed and sealed by the District Collector, during a weekend, acting on a directive issued by the Revenue Principal Secretary in pursuance of a cabinet decision.

The cabinet took the decision on Friday and asked the official to give effect to it within two days. Evidently, the time-frame was set with a view to completing the takeover before likely court intervention the following Monday.
The club filed a writ petition challenging the cabinet decision on Friday itself. Justice Siri Jagan instructed the Registrar of the high court to inform the Advocate General about the petition and advise the government against taking any action until the matter was taken up on Monday.

A government lawyer and the Law Secretary informed Haran of the judge's direction, but she did not recall the order issued to the Collector to take over the club.
Justice Siri Jagan took a dim view of the government action. He asked the government to return the property to the club within 24 hours. He also directed the Principal Secretary to appear in person to explain her conduct.

However, on a review petition filed by her, he exempted her from personal appearance.

In her affidavit, Nivedita P. Haran said she had consulted the Revenue Minister and he had told her to go ahead with the takeover decision since she had received no written instructions to the contrary.

This is not the first time that the LDF government has revealed itself as a divided house. From the very outset, governance has been reduced to the level of a spectator sport.

In the early days of the government, the public was treated to the spectacle of the Chief Minister and CPI-M ministers loyal to party State Secretary pulling in different directions.

The drive against encroachments in the hill resort of Munnar left both the government and the parties divided. The Chief Minister, who sent a team of officials to evict the encroachers, faced opposition from the organisational wings of both the CPI-M and the CPI.

The present situation is more complex than anything witnessed during the past two years. The LDF government now stands before the high court as one incapable of speaking with one voice.

Although the high court summoned Nivedita P. Haran in her official capacity, her review petition is a personal response. She has engaged her own lawyer instead of relying on the government's law officers to get her off the hook.

The government's top law officers also stand divided. On Saturday, the Chief Minister conceded the Revenue Minister's demand that the golf club case be taken away from CPI(M)-nominated Advocate General Sudhakar Prasad and entrusted with CPI-nominated Additional Advocate General Venganoor Chandrasekharan Nair.

However, Sudhakar Prasad will represent the government before Justice Siri Jagan during the hearing on Nivedita P. Haran's review petition.

The government will probably have a lot of egg on its face when this drama ends. --Gulf Today, Sharjah, June 16, 2008.

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