The faceoff between Kerala Governor Arif Mohammed Khan and the Left Democratic Front Government in the state is intensifying by the day. The latest flashpoint is Mr Khan’s abrupt directive on Sunday asking the vice-chancellors of nine universities to step down immediately. His move came after the Supreme Court quashed the appointment of the Vice Chancellor of APJ Abdul Kalam Technological University in the state, declaring it patently illegal. Grasping at this verdict, the Governor declared that the appointments of several other V-Cs were also illegal. With the Pinarayi Vijayan government refusing to back down and taking the matter to court, a protracted legal and political battle is on the cards. The LDF Government also announced massive protests against the move while accusing Mr Khan of implementing the ‘Sangh Parivar agenda’. Last week, Mr Khan notified the removal of 15 members of the Kerala University Senate after the V-C refused to comply with his order to remove them. The CPI-M accused him of packing the senate with RSS supporters.
In fact, relations between the Governor and the state government have been fractious since last year when Mr Khan objected to the reappointment of Kannur University Vice-Chancellor Gopinath Ravindran. The management of 13 state-run universities in Kerala has been a major sticking point, with the Governor and the state government completely at odds on the issue. A few days ago Mr Khan threatened to sack ministers who lower the “dignity of the Governor’s office”. This garnered an immediate reaction as the Government and the Opposition questioned his Constitutional authority to do so. Raking up a 2019 incident, when he was heckled at the Indian History Congress session in Kannur for his support to the Citizenship Amendment Act, Mr Khan said the Kerala government had not acted against the perpetrators of that attack. In an intemperate outburst, he called the Kannur University V-C a criminal and noted historian Irfan Habib a “goonda”.
Friction between Governors appointed by the Centre and state governments ruled by Opposition parties is par for the course, but never before has animosity reached such levels. During Indira Gandhi’s tenure Governors were often used to topple state governments. Though the BJP-led Government at the Centre has so far refrained from doing so, Governors are often pliant tools in the Union Government’s design to unsettle democratically elected Governments. However, the overly confrontationist approach adopted by Arif Mohammed Khan does not augur well for Centre-state relations and appears to be a direct attack on the concept of federalism.
Pollution woes hit capital again
After a brief respite due to unseasonal rain, Delhi is back on the list of the most polluted cities. On Diwali morning, the air quality index (AQI) rose alarmingly and the Capital earned the dubious distinction of being the second most polluted city in the world. On Sunday, the AQI was reported at 259, the lowest for the day before Diwali in seven years. But overnight, pollution levels spiked as people burst firecrackers with abandon. Post Diwali, the situation will only worsen as crackers and stubble burning in Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan vitiate the atmosphere. The breather of the last two years, when Diwali celebrations were muted, is over as people are back to celebrating the festival in a big way. Hopes of the Aam Aadmi Party government in Punjab taking stern action against stubble burning have proved short-lived. Pollution control measures in the Capital have not helped though Stage 1 of the GRAP (Graded Response Action Plan) is in force. The steps in this plan include a ban on construction activities in the National Capital Region, harsh fines for burning municipal waste, and emission norms for thermal plants. Despite the blanket ban on firecrackers imposed by the AAP Government in Delhi, there is no let-up in their use, rendering the air in the national capital toxic. Police and the authorities have proved ineffective in enforcing the ban, and sale of illegal firecrackers is rampant. Political mudslinging on the issue continues apace with the BJP accusing the AAP of being anti-Hindu by banning firecrackers.
Meanwhile, there is no respite from the annual phenomenon of pollution that grips the Capital every winter. Political parties resort only to name-calling and do little to alleviate the problem. The Arvind Kejriwal government has announced that vehicles without pollution under control (PUC) certificates will not be allowed to get fuel, but will such steps make any difference to PM2.5 levels? The AAP leadership, which is busy trying to expand its footprint in Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat, where elections are due, has little time to take effective steps to tackle the problem. The denizens of the national capital will continue to suffer another year of pollution and its side-effects, including severe health problems especially among children and the elderly. Delhi’s journey towards becoming a world-class capital is facing a major roadblock because a city that cannot provide clean air and water to its residents can by no means be termed world class.