Puducherry Lieutenant Governor Kiran Bedi on Saturday suspended her order issued earlier in the day that said distribution of free rice to villagers in the Union territory be made “conditional to the certification that the village is open defecation free and free of strewn garbage and plastics”.
The suspension of the order came after it triggered sharp attacks from the opposition parties including the Congress, All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the Communist Party of India (Marxist), and criticism on social media.
“Has Modiji told Kiran Bedi to do this? Does Modiji know what Kiran Bedi is doing?” asked Congress leader Pawan Khera. “She is ordering officials that let people die of hunger but don’t given them ration,” he added, referring to the Swachh Bharat campaign launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in October 2014 that aims to make India free from open defecation October 2, 2019.
Bedi’s morning order had given the local authorities a four-week ultimatum, with the deadline ending on May 31. “Till then the free rice supplies will be kept on hold and in safe storage,” Bedi had said. Her statement followed a morning weekend round to Mannadipet Village.
Facing mounting criticism, Bedi tweeted late evening to say that her intent had been misread, she had received “assured commitment that rural areas will be Open defecation free by June 2018” and that she had clarified her “earlier communications to put at rest any misgivings”.
Bedi had proposed that the certification that the villages are clean and free of strewn garbage be given “jointly by the Member of Legislative Assembly of the constituency and the Commissioner of the Commune Panchayat concerned”.
Her order came months after a visiting United Nations sanitation and water expert, Special Rapporteur Leo Heller, had said that the implementation of the “open defecation free” programme should not be “human rights free”.
In his report at the end of a two-week visit to India in October, Heller had drawn attention to “aggressive and abusive practices” by authorities to deliver on targets, pointing to instances where officials had cancelled ration cards or cut power supply to people who did not have a toilet at home.
Puducherry and Delhi are the only two Union Territories that also have elected Assemblies and in both these cases, the chief ministers have been locked in disputes over administrative powers with their respective Lt Governors.
Puducherry Chief Minister V Narayanasamy has often accused Bedi of overstepping her constitutional role in the union territory.
Bedi, who was the Bharatiya Janata Party’s chief ministerial candidate in 2015 Delhi elections, was appointed as the Lt Governor of Puducherry in 2016.