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Published on: March 23, 2021, 5:54 p.m.
Defanging Kejriwal
  • Kejriwal: constant battle with the Centre

By Rakesh Joshi. Executive Editor, Business India

Opening yet another front in the battle of nerves with the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government in Delhi, the Modi government has introduced the Government of the National Capital Territory of Delhi (Amendment) Bill 2021 in Lok Sabha, which revives the dispute on the distribution of powers between the elected government and the Lieutenant Governor (L-G).

The issue, which was at the heart of the ruling AAP’s frequent run-ins with the BJP-led Centre during much of its first term, was taken up by a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court, which tilted the scales in favour of the elected government through its 4 July 2018 verdict. Predictably, the AAP has taken to the streets against the bill, which “seeks to drastically curtail powers of the elected government” and is ‘against’ the Supreme Court judgment.

The amendments will have far-reaching implications — beyond just the AAP vs BJP tussle. By making it mandatory for the elected government to route all its files through the L-G, the amendments will essentially take away the government’s autonomy and the dream for full statehood for the state, which each political party – BJP, Congress and AAP – have promised the electorate at various times. In 1993, BJP’s then Chief Minister Madan Lal Khurana too had raised the issue of the paucity of powers the elected government in Delhi had. The Congress was then in power at the Centre. Now, when the BJP is in power at the Centre, the AAP has the same lament.

LG’s power

From 2015 to 2018, the AAP government was engaged in a constant battle with the Centre over policy decisions and the powers of the L-G vis-à-vis the elected government. The Supreme Court judgment gave it a freer hand in terms of policy decisions. AAP insiders say that it was because of the judgment that the Delhi government was able to clear policy decisions, like giving free power to those using under 200 units, free bus rides for women and doorstep delivery of ration. 

In the ‘statement of objects and reasons’ section, the Centre claims that the amendment bill seeks to give effect to the Supreme Court’s interpretation and that it ‘further defines’ the responsibilities of the elected government and the LG in line with the Constitutional scheme. Among the major proposed amendments, one makes it explicitly clear that the term ‘government’ in any law made by the Legislative Assembly shall mean the L-G.

This, essentially, gives effect to former L-G Najeeb Jung’s 2015 assertion that “Government means the Lieutenant Governor of the NCT of Delhi, appointed by the President under Article 239 and designated as such under Article 239 AA of the Constitution”. The bill adds that the L-G’s opinion shall be obtained before the government takes any executive action, based on decisions taken by the cabinet or any individual minister.

In its 2018 verdict, a five-judge SC Bench had held that the L-G’s concurrence is not required on issues other than police, public order and land. It had added that decisions of the Council of Ministers will, however, have to be communicated to the L-G. “It has to be clearly stated that requiring prior concurrence of the Lieutenant Governor would absolutely negate the ideals of representative governance and democracy conceived for the NCT of Delhi by Article 239AA of the Constitution,” the court had ruled. The L-G was bound by the aid and advice of the council of ministers, it had said.

The bench, headed by then Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, had said: “The status of the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi is not that of a governor of a state, rather he remains an administrator, in a limited sense, working with the designation of Lieutenant Governor”. It had also pointed out that the elected government must keep in mind that Delhi is not a state.

Encouraged by the SC verdict, the elected government had stopped sending files on executive matters to the L-G before the implementation of any decision. It has been keeping the L-G abreast of all administrative developments, but not necessarily before implementing or executing any decision. Now, the amendment, if cleared, will force the elected government to take the L-G’s advice before taking any action on any cabinet decision.

The bill seeks to add a provision in the original GNCTD Act, 1991, barring the assembly or its committees from making rules to take up matters concerning day-to-day administration, or to conduct inquiries in relation to administrative decisions. This assumes significance as the 70-member Assembly, where the AAP has as many as 62 MLAs, has multiple committees examining matters ranging from riots to environment.

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