Pondicherry – A Pie Too Small

Government administration in Pondicherry is at a standstill. Teachers and Government contractors for essential services (such as municipal waste collection) have not been paid for six months; large numbers of positions (including secretaries for several departments and superintendents in almost all departments) haven’t been filled; and power struggles from the lowest levels (Councilors) to the highest (Ministers) have ground the cumbersome bureaucracy to a halt. The files are piling up, and if paper is not pushed through up to 21 departments and public bodies (municipalities and commune panchayats – local urban and peri-urban governing bodies), nothing gets done.

The Union Territory (UT) of Pondicherry covers 480 square kilometers comprised of four regions – Pondicherry, Karaikal, Mahe and Yanam – in three different States – Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh. The population (according to the 2001 census) of the UT is around 974,000, with about 735,000 (75%) in the Pondicherry region. The region of Pondicherry is composed of non-contiguous, swiss-cheese-like pockets interspersed with areas in Tamil Nadu. Pondicherry region is divided into 2 municipalities and 5 commune panchayats. The municipalities are further divided into wards.

Because Pondicherry is relatively small, there is not enough graft to go around to keep all the elected officials happy. In fact, the lowest (and newest – the first elections took place in 2006) level of elected officials – the Councilors – may not make enough to recover the loans they took out to pay for the votes in their wards before the next elections.

The Chief Minister, N. Rangasamy (who is the Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) for Thattanchavady in Pondicherry), has consolidated most of the important portfolios under his charge. He is responsible for something called “Confidential and Cabinet”, General Administration, Home, Revenue and Excise, Public Works, Planning and Finance, Co-operation, Town and Country Planning (including the Planning Authorities), Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs, Science, Technology and Environment, and “all other subjects not allocated to any other Ministers.” Note the oversight for Public Works Department (PWD), which accounts for over 50% of the Rs. 1,445 crore (over US$ 370 million) Planning Commission budget allocated to Pondicherry in 2007-08 from the Central Government. More on that later.

There are only 5 other Ministers in Pondicherry.

The Health Minister, E. Valsaraj (who is the MLA for Mahe), is also in charge of Labour and Employment, Law, the Port, and Housing. Six graft cases have been registered against E. Valsaraj by the Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau for financial irregularities in a land deal in Mahe.

The Education Minister, MOHF Shajahan (who is the MLA for Lawspet in Pondicherry), is also in charge of Art and Culture, Transport, Information Technology, and Fisheries.

The Tourism Minister, Malladi Krishna Rao (who is the MLA for Yamam), is also in charge of Civil Aviation, the Local Administration Department (LAD – which includes the municipalities and commune and village panchayats), Community Development, and District Rural Development Agency.

The Welfare Minister, M. Kandasamy (who is the MLA for Bahour in Pondicherry), is also in charge of Adi-Dravidar (Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Caste) Welfare, Women and Child Welfare, Urban Basic Services, and Fire Services.

The Industries and Power Minister, V. Vaithilingam (who is the MLA for Nettapakkam in Pondicherry), is also in charge of Agriculture, Forest, Animal Husbandry, and Economics and Statistics.

The 5 Ministers have failed to oust the Chief Minister (apparently, he sends too much money back up to the Center), but are now demanding that the Public Works portfolio be withdrawn from his purview. The Chief Engineer of PWD, C. Anandane, has been charged with several counts of corruption by the Anti Corruption Division of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). He was removed from office the morning of 29 February after calls for his dismissal from several of the minor opposition parties, who are capitalizing on the infighting and corruption cases against key members of the Government. (The Chief Minister and Lieutenant Governor not only delayed proceedings against Anandane by the CBI but refrained from dismissing him from office.)

Opposition party leaders in Pondicherry also claim that many of the schemes announced for the 2007-08 budget have not been implemented, and that with less than a month to go, only 60% of the budget has been spent. (I wonder why pre-primary school teachers, who make Rs. 2,500 a month – about US$ 64 – have not been paid since October…) The Planning Commission has approved an increased budget of Rs. 1,750 crore for the next fiscal year – 2008-09. There are three Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officers that are awaiting department allocation.

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