The Delhi Amendment Bill Will Increase Rift Between Elected Government and Centre

The amendment places more powers in the hands of the L-G, despite Supreme Court ruling of 2018 saying that the chief minister will have greater say in all matters barring land, police and law and order.

New Delhi: The Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (Amendment) Bill, 2021, which was introduced by the Centre in parliament on Monday, ostensibly with the objective of giving a proper “interpretation” to the Supreme Court ruling of 2018, has been criticised by the ruling Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi as an attempt to curtail the powers of the elected government. Meanwhile, experts have cautioned that it could face constitutional and legal hurdles as it also does away with various powers of the Delhi assembly committees.

Difference between objectives and reality

Though the objective of the Bill states that it will “promote harmonious relations between the legislature and the executive, and further define the responsibilities of the elected government and the LG, in line with the constitutional scheme of governance of National Capital Territory of Delhi, as interpreted by the Hon’ble Supreme Court,” it is being widely felt that it would only increase friction between the elected government and the Centre, that governs Delhi through the L-G.

A major reason behind this is that the amendment notes that the opinion of the L-G will have to be sought on every decision by the ministers. This, officials insist, will only result in delay in projects and schemes, as a lot of files will have to be sent to the L-G since a large number of decisions are taken by the ministers on all kinds of issues on a daily basis.

Amendments seeks to nullify impact of SC judgment

It is also being argued that the amendments are intended to nullify the impact of the Supreme Court judgment, which clearly laid out that the L-G would be bound by the aide and advice of the elected government, except in matters pertaining to police, land and law and order. The amendment now provides for concurrence of the L-G in matters of day-to-day functioning of the administration.

The criticism of the amendments is primarily on three counts. One, they imply that the definition of “government” in Delhi is the Lieutenant Governor.

Secondly, while Delhi is not a full state and the jurisdiction over all issues barring land, police and law and order vested in the elected government earlier, the amendment gives the L-G power to look into matters other those that came under him directly.

Finally, it is also being said proposed amendments to the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (GNCTD) Act, 1991, if passed would impact the powers of the Delhi assembly committees to probe the day-to-day functioning of the administration.

‘Attempt to curtail powers of elected government’

Following the introduction of the amendment Bill, Delhi chief minister and Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal tweeted his angst against the move, saying the legislation went against the judgment of the Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court. He also said it was an attempt by the BJP to curtail the powers of the elected government after people rejected it in the assembly polls last year and the civic body by-polls held recently.

Meanwhile, AAP MPs in the Rajya Sabha Sanjay Singh, Narain Dass Gupta and Sushil Kumar Gupta held a protest in the parliament premises on Tuesday against the attempts to curtail the powers of the elected government in Delhi. They held aloft posters which in Hindi read, “SC says CM is government, Amit Shah says LG is government”, “BJP lost the polls – it is acting out of desperation” and “Stop killing the Constitution, stop killing democracy”.

Congress asks why AAP remained silent on Bill

The political slugfest over the move, which began last month after the proposal to move the Bill was approved, also intensified. The Congress, while criticising the BJP for the move, also questioned why AAP remained silent on the issue over the past month despite knowing that in February a proposal to amend the Act had been approved.

Vice-president in Delhi Pradesh Congress Committee Abhishek Dutt said the change in law would “destroy Delhi’s democratic powers”, but asked why AAP did not protest against the move since early February, when it was approved. “Why didn’t Kejriwal, who often sits on dharnas, protest against it? Why did his ministers or MPs not voice their dissatisfaction?”

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BJP says L-G is ultimate authority in Delhi

Delhi BJP president Adesh Gupta, however, lauded the legislation saying it would streamline the functioning of the government. “Even after the amendment Bill, 75% of administrative work and power will rest with Delhi’s government. It will be better that the Arvind Kejriwal government concentrate on good governance and developing Delhi, instead of starting a new power struggle,” he said.

For his part, Leader of Opposition in the Delhi assembly Ramvir Singh Bidhuri insisted that the Centre has only defined the powers more lucidly and held that the L-G remained the “ultimate” authority in Delhi. He added that as far as the charge of BJP bringing the law as it lost recent polls was concerned, it should be remembered that it won all the Lok Sabha seats in Delhi for a second consecutive time in 2019.

The Bill that defines certain role and powers of the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi is likely to face both constitutional and legal challenges.

Last month, when it was listed for consideration, senior Supreme Court advocate Sanjay Hegde had told The Wire that with the Central government bringing a legislation amending its earlier NCT Act, he did “see constitutional challenges coming up”. Stating that these would take their own time to resolve, he, however, added that “to use legislative power like this, just because you can, also raises questions of constitutional governance and constitutional morality.”

Hegde also questioned why Delhi’s population was being denied of statehood. “A city of two crore people can’t necessarily be deprived of statehood or be given a rather watered down version of statehood,” he said.

Amendment against spirit of federalism

Reacting to the developments, AAP national spokesperson Raghav Chadha said, “The Bill introduced in Parliament today is an unholy attempt to curtail powers of democratically elected Government with highest mandate in India’s electoral history. It is an affront not only to the will of the people but to the spirit of federalism – an inseparable part of basic structure.”

Chadha, who is also chairperson of the Delhi assembly’s Peace and Harmony Committee, charged that the amendments, if passed, will directly curtail the powers of the assembly committees. He questioned why was there an attempt to indirectly limit the power of the legislative assembly that represents the will of the people of Delhi.

It is believed that the proposed amendments are also aimed at providing some protection to the government officials from appearing before the House committees, especially in matters of day-to-day administration.