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.

Southasia - - MALÉ - By S.G. Ji­la­nee

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

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