Strange occupants of our Raj Bhavans
Article 153 of the Constitution of India specifies that there shall be a Governor for each State who will hold office during the pleasure of the President. Rules regarding the appointment of Governors are as follows: “The Governor of a State shall be appointed by the President by warrant under his hand and seal. Subject to the foregoing provisions of this article, a Governor shall hold for a term of five years from the date on which he enters upon his office.”
Articles 157 and 158 of the Constitution specify eligibility requirements for the post of Governor. A Governor must be a citizen of India; at least 35 years old; not a member of either House of Parliament or State Legislature and; not hold any other office of profit. The rules don’t mention that the Governor has to be an eminent person or a person of integrity or one who is not involved in any police case.
Another unwritten qualification for a person to be appointed as Governor is that his loyalty should be unquestionable, so far as, carrying out his expected or anticipated commands, both implicit and explicit, are concerned. A Governor should be an obstructionist, especially in the States ruled by opposition parties.
Yet another unspecified requirement for an individual to be appointed Governor seem to be that he should be above 70 years of age and hopefully senile. Odd as this may sound, it is not based on any guesswork or hearsay. This author had the privilege of serving as an aide-de-camp to a very alert and distinguished Governor. During the annual conference, called by the President, the ADCs usually shared a lot of information about their bosses.
In one case, this author was told, a particular Governor had reached a point of such senility that he would ask his own ADC as to why he was always following him. The Governor even complained to some politicians that he was being shadowed, despite being repeatedly told that it was the duty of the ADC to accompany the Governor.
Another ADC rued his job for the simple reason that he was spending at least a week in receiving and seeing off the Governor’s private guests. Some of these guests had limited financial means and hence they travelled by train in the third class. The ADC complained that looking for the guests in those crowded compartments was not a pleasant experience.
It is a matter of public knowledge that even the supposedly more eminent Governors had, upon retirement, taken with them official items from the Raj Bhavans such as carpets and crockery. Most Governors are political appointees – in almost all cases, they are individuals that the ruling party has to reward for services previously rendered. Generally speaking, though, most Governors conduct themselves with integrity. However, a few definitely misuse their position.
One example of such unscrupulous conduct is that of Kamla Beniwal. She was recently removed from her position as the Governor of Mizoram by the President. Now that she no longer enjoys constitutional immunity against legal proceedings, Beniwal faces criminal charges in a Rs 1,000 crore land grab case, that is currently being heard in a court in Jaipur, Rajasthan. A farmers’ cooperative society, of which Beniwal was a member, had fraudulently acquired ownership of Government land that it had previously held on lease. In 1953, Kisan Samuhik Krishi Sahkari Samiti Ltd was allotted 384 bighas (around 218.34 acres) of Government land for collective farming at Jhotwara on the outskirts of Jaipur. Beniwal, who was a Minister in Rajasthan, became a member of this cooperative in 1970. Although the lease expired in 1978 and ownership of the land then returned to the Government of Rajasthan, society members allegedly claimed compensation against the land.
The Jaipur Collector’s office had sent a report to the Union Government in April this year, recommending appropriate legal action in the matter. The police, which probed the matter at the Court’s direction, has also concluded that Beniwal was involved in wrongdoing. The police report was submitted to the Court in May. Although it did not name Beniwal, who was then serving as the Governor of Gujarat and, therefore, enjoyed immunity, she was still responsible for the fraudulent dealings by virtue of being a member of the society which got the land.
In a private Court complaint, it has been alleged that Beniwal and other members of the cooperative claimed that they had worked on the leased land as ‘farm labourers’. They reportedly claimed to have tilled the land for 14 to 15 hours a day for 58 years (between 1953 and 2011) in order to get 209 plots of land as compensation! As the lawyer fighting the case against the cooperative, asked in Court, “How can a Cabinet Minister, a Deputy Chief Minister and a Governor, be putting in 14 to 15 hours as a farm labourer?” The matter is still pending in the Court.
Of course, misuse of state property by political leaders is not uncommon. Ministers, for instance, often continue to occupy government housing even after their tenures have ended. This is due to the fact that, even though there is a code of conduct, it is ignored by the politicians. There should be a compulsory course in ethic for all lawmakers and leaders, be they elected or appointed to public office.