Special Category Status and States

Explained: The ‘Chandigarh Question’


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Bifurcation of Punjab

Mains level: Read the attached story

The newly elected Punjab Legislative Assembly passed a resolution, moved by the Chief Minister himself, on April 1 in a special session seeking the transfer of Chandigarh to Punjab.

With this, the ‘Chandigarh question’ has resurfaced, but this time it occupies the national spotlight.

Establishment of Chandigarh

  • Chandigarh is described as a ‘planned city’ emblematic of ‘Nehruvian modernity’.
  • It is a greenfield city, which was commissioned by the government in independent India to replace Lahore, which went to Pakistan after Partition, as the capital of Punjab.
  • Designed by Le Corbusier in association with Pierre Jeanneret, it is located on the foothills of the Shivalik Himalayas on village land acquired from what was then the Kharar tehsil of Ambala district.
  • It was the capital of undivided Punjab from its inauguration in 1953 till 1966.

Bifurcation of Punjab and Common Capital

  • Under the Punjab Reorganisation Act, 1966 following the Punjabi Suba movement, Haryana was carved out of the Hindi-speaking regions as a separate State.
  • The hill regions of Punjab were merged with what was then the Union Territory (UT) of Himachal Pradesh.
  • Chandigarh was made a UT and has remained the joint capital of Haryana and Punjab with State assets divided between Punjab and Haryana in a ratio of 60:40.

What is the Chandigarh issue?

  • Since 1966, the lack of full rights to its capital has remained a vexed issue in Punjab politics.
  • All the governments and most political parties of Punjab have regularly raised the demand for Chandigarh.
  • It has featured in all major developments, whether it is the 1973 Anandpur Sahib resolution, Dharam Yudh Morcha (then separatist movement) and the 1985 Rajiv-Longowal Accord.
  • Since 1966, the Punjab Assembly has passed at least six such resolutions with the last being in 2014 under the Shiromani Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party (SAD-BJP) government.
  • The Centres’ opposition to the latest Assembly resolution is the first time a political party has taken a contrarian stand.

What is different this time?

  • The immediate provocation this time has been two recent decisions of the Central government: breaking allies with erstwhile govt and withdrawal of farm laws.
  • The Centre also amended the rules governing the functioning of the Bhakra Beas Management Board (BBMB), constituted under the 1966 Act.
  • It changed the eligibility criteria for the two full-time members of the Board which have, though technically open to all Indian officials, by convention gone to officials from Punjab and Haryana.
  • These moves are widely interpreted as a continuation of the Centre’s contentious relationship with the other political parties.
  • It gives an affront blow to Punjab’s claim over Chandigarh.

What has been the position of the Union government on the city?

  • At the time of the 1966 Act, the Union government with Indira Gandhi as Prime Minister indicated that the UT status to Chandigarh was temporary and that it would be transferred to Punjab.
  • This decision was formalised in 1970 with Mrs Gandhi promising Haryana funds for building its own capital.
  • According to the 1985 Rajiv-Longowal Accord, Chandigarh was to be handed over to Punjab on January 26, 1986 but this never fructified after the assassination of Longowal and the long period of militancy.
  • The recent developments could thus indicate a shift in the Central government’s position.

What about Haryana?

  • As in Punjab, all parties in Haryana present a common position asserting its claim to the city.
  • It has objected to any move which associates Chandigarh solely with Punjab.

Is there a distinctive Chandigarh position?

  • Employees and unions of the Chandigarh administration have mostly welcomed the change in service rules since the Central provisions carry more benefits and perks.
  • After decades of existence as a UT, Chandigarh has developed a distinctive cultural character.
  • Given its geographical location it has the presence of many educational institutions, medical establishments and the Army and Air Force.
  • It has developed a unique cosmopolitanism and become a magnet for the youth across the north western region.
  • They city residents thus favour the status quo.

Way forward

  • While this time the issue has attracted more attention than usual.
  • Its Punjab mandate indicates massive expectations from the electorate including better service conditions from government employees but it has inherited a debt-ridden government.
  • The new govt will have to balance these contending claims in deciding further action.


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