The Opposition Congress party and its legislators in Goa met Governor Mridula Sinha on Monday to demand that February’s incomplete Budget session of the assembly be reconvened and to register their protest about the challenges created by what they described as the state’s “headless government”.
This situation has been caused by the illness of Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar, who left for the United States to be treated for a pancreatic ailment shortly after presenting a short interim Budget. Instead of appointing an acting chief minister before he departed on March 5, Parrikar of the Bharatiya Janata Party set up a three-member Cabinet Advisory Committee. The chief minister has retained control over all his portfolios, including the critical home, finance, general administration and personnel departments. In his absence, cabinet decisions have been taken by consensus.
But this mechanism, the Congress claimed in a memo it submitted to the governor on Monday, is of uncertain legal standing. No provisions for such a committee exist either in the Indian Constitution of India nor in the Rules of Business of Government of Goa, they said. The Congress asked the governor if she had appointed the committee, and if so, under what Constitutional provision. It asked for details of matters that the committee had placed before the Governor, if they had been accepted, rejected or referred back.
The Congress also demanded the resumption of the Budget session, which had been truncated to four days instead of running for a month as it usually does. When the Budget was presented in February, the Congress had been criticised for allowing the session to be truncated. But even as it agreed to the shortened session, it said it would seek a complete session later. “It is unfortunate that the ruling BJP has taken advantage of the situation and are not taking any steps to reconvene the adjourned session,” the Congress memo to Governor Sinha said.
Parrikar, 62, has been ill since February. The BJP has said that he has a “pancreatic ailment” but has not been more specific about his condition. Given the competing, antagonistic and ideologically inimical alliance partners that Parrikar cobbled together to form a government after his party’s defeat in the 2017 polls, it has benefitted the BJP to maintain secrecy around the nature of the chief minister’s illness. After all, Parrikar is acknowledged to be the glue that keeps the unwieldy coalition afloat.
The absence of a centralised government decision-making mechanism has resulted in administrative drift, observers say. Hardest hit by the impasse is the unresolved crisis in the mining sector. In February, the Supreme Court court halted mining activity in Goa as it quashed the state government’s order renewing the licences of mining companies in the state. It said that new leases should be issued only after the companies get environment clearances. But the state government has been unable to move ahead with a response to the court. Even ruling party legislators in the mining belt say there is no one to seek answers from within the government.
Sections of the local media have pointed out to the delays in filling government jobs in the chief minister’s absence.