New Delhi Towards Better Governance
Through a landmark ruling, India’s Supreme Court has restored the primary role played by the “representative government” in the National Capital Territory.
Known as National Capital Territory (NCT), Delhi, with an estimated population of around 27 million and 1,484 sq. km. area, is a Union Territory. Administered by the Centre, it does not enjoy the status of a full-fledged state. Instead of a governor, therefore, it has a Lt. Governor, even though there is an elected legislative assembly, headed by a chief minister.
The Lt. Governor takes orders from the centre, instead of acting upon the advice of the chief minister as is the norm in the state governments. Also, the Delhi government does not have control over land, appointment of senior officers and the police force. These three are controlled by the Lt. Governor. Power, thus, is held, not by the elected chief minister, but by a Lt. Governor, appointed by the Union government.
This is a quaint paradox, because, a government without control over land, senior bureaucracy and, especially, the police force, would be like a locomotive without wheels. Such an arrangement may work smoothly where the Union government and the NCT are led by the same party, but complications arise when they are in opposition, as in the instant case, where Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Admi Party (AAP), swept
to power in Delhi in 2015, winning 67 out of 70 seats and reducing the BJP to only three.
AAP has therefore, been a thorn in BJP’s side from day one, as Lt. governor, Anil Baijal and his predecessor Najeeb Jung, have been locked in a bitter power tussle with the Delhi government that started soon after AAP’s victory, and has continued ever since. AAP alleges that the BJP-led central government has been exacting revenge by using the Lt Governor to block every decision taken by the Kejriwal government.
In 2016, AAP went into appeal to the Supreme Court against a Delhi high court judgment that declared the L-G as the sole administrator of the city. Now, after hearing appeals filed by chief minister Arvind Kejriwal’s government against the high court, the top court, has ruled that the Lt Governor "should not act in a mechanical manner and stall decisions of the Delhi cabinet".
“Delhi’s lieutenant governor (L-G) is bound to listen to the city’s democratically elected government and cannot act independently,” said the Supreme Court.
A five-judge bench in a majority verdict ruled that, “The L-G is bound by the aid and advice of the council of ministers. The L-G’s special power of referring matters to the President needs to be exercised in exceptional circumstances and not routinely.”
“There is no room for absolutism and there is no room for anarchism,” the court emphasized. “All decisions by Delhi’s council of ministers, who are elected representatives, must be communicated to the L-G but that does not mean his concurrence is required.”
The judgment -- pronounced by Chief Justice Dipak Misra -- also held that the LG cannot act as an “obstructionist.” In three separate but concurring judgments, Justices AK Sikri, AM Khanwilkar, DY Chandrachud and Ashok Bhushan said, “The lieutenant governor does not have independent decision-making powers and the real power must lie with the elected government. There is no room for absolutism and there is no room for anarchism.”
The apex court further declared that "A balanced federal structure mandates that the union does not usurp all powers and the states enjoy freedom without any unsolicited interference from the centre."
A key decision that put paid to the lingering anomaly, forever, and put the Lt. governor in his proper place was that, "The cabinet must convey all decisions to the lieutenant governor but his concurrence is not required in all matters."
The ruling, among other things, emphasized: a. except for anything related to land, police and public order, the Lt governor has no independent decision-making powers under the constitution; b. The Lt Governor is not the governor but an administrator in a limited sense. He is bound by cabinet advice in matters other than those exempted; and c. The Lt. Governor needs to work harmoniously with the Delhi government.
"Now we don't have to get every file or decision cleared by the Lt. governor," said deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia, welcoming the judgment, and forthwith ordered to start work on stalled decisions like the doorstep delivery of around 100 services.
The Supreme Court's landmark verdict comes days after Kejriwal spent nine days protesting in a visitors' room at Lt Governor Anil Baijal's house to get his attention after a series of runins. He wanted Baijal to step in and end an officers boycott that started after Delhi's top bureaucrat, chief secretary, Anshu Prakash, alleged in February that he had been attacked by AAP lawmakers at a late night meeting at Kejriwal's home.
After the officers agreed to talks, Kejriwal ended the protest but started a signature campaign for full statehood for Delhi, a demand that was supported by the BJP until it took power at the Centre and took a u-turn.
The judgment is historic insofar as it clears the path for good governance in Delhi in a truly democratic spirit as behoves India’s status of the world’s largest democracy.
Understandably, Kejriwal, whose three-year rule in Delhi has been marked by protests and dharnas, including the most recent at Lt. Governor, Baijal’s home, as mentioned, hailed the judgment as "A big victory for people of Delhi." The AAP government, meanwhile, claims the judgment as its victory against the centre over administrative control of the national capital.
“A big victory for the people of Delhi...a big victory for democracy,” said Kejriwal on Twitter minutes after the Supreme Court verdict.
But, while undoubtedly, a big win for Arvind Kejriwal's Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in the fight for control of Delhi, it is also beyond question that it is a resounding victory, personally, for Arvind Kajriwal, as well.
With the cause of friction between the elected government and the Lt. Governor removed, he will feel free now to launch development projects for improving the lives of the people and providing them good governance.
AAP has been a thorn in BJP’s side from day one, as Lt. Governor Anil Baijal and his predecessor Najeeb Jung, have been locked in a bitter power tussle.
Anil Baijal Arvind Kejriwal