Decoding Delhi’s Demand for Full Statehood

In the tussle between AAP and the central government in Delhi, how practical is AAP's State of Delhi Bill?

Delhi chief minister, Arvind Kejriwal, and his party, have recently been involved in a number of spats with the Centre. Credit: PTI

Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal and his party have recently been involved in a number of spats with the Centre. Credit: PTI

Delhi is a peculiar case of governance and the high court’s verdict stating that the lieutenant governor (LG) is the administrative head of Delhi makes matters more complicated. There is no denying that Delhi is a quasi-state – partly a union territory, partly a state. This structure of governance for Delhi has caused several altercations between the AAP-led Delhi government and the Centre-appointed LG Najeeb Jung.

Although the government of the National Capital Territory of Delhi (GNCTD) is the newest player on the block (the municipal corporation of Delhi, MCD, was constituted, under an act of parliament, much earlier in 1958), it has often attempted to go beyond its constitutional bounds in setting up inquiry committees, demanding full statehood and a referendum to decide on the issue.

All arguments for full statehood are centred on the fact that GNCTD has no jurisdiction over the police, the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) and the MCD. The AAP government claims that its lack of control over these three hinders its ability to efficiently plan Delhi’s development and inhibits its influence on decisions regarding the security of its electorate. Also, the multiplicity of agencies makes it complex for citizens to hold the government accountable.

Multiplicity of agencies

Figure: Multiplicity of agencies in governance of Delhi/Apula Singh

Taking its demand for full statehood a step forward, the AAP-led GNCTD drafted ‘The State of Delhi Bill 2016’, made it public and sought suggestions. The Bill does not propose any change in the territorial or political jurisdiction of NCT. The New Delhi municipal council area (Lutyen’s Delhi) is supposed to remain under the exclusive legislative control of the parliament and executive control of the president, acting through the governor – the LG is to be replaced by a governor. The Bill seeks a cadre for Delhi’s own use in the UPSC. This is important for a massive and diverse city like Delhi because a specific cadre will work exclusively in the city and will not be subject to frequent transfers. In terms of finances, all tax and duties, including land revenue – revenue derived from land development and sale of DDA housing – will go to the state.

The BJP-led Centre is unwilling to give in to these demands. This is mainly because control over the police and land is required in areas with central government institutions, embassies and so on. Most of Delhi’s infrastructure projects are funded by the Centre. The Ministry of Urban Development (MoUD) has allocated almost 30% of its 2016-17 budget to projects in Delhi.

Hence, it’s important to understand that national capitals are often seen as a different breed of cities, a ‘fourth jurisdiction’, and an arena for the national governments to showcase their ‘ability to govern nationally and communicate internationally’.

International cases

Washington DC is a well known federal district but it enjoys much less autonomy than the Delhi government. The citizens of DC do not have any representatives in the US senate and only one non-voting representative in the US House of Representatives. Mexico City, about the same size as Delhi, is also a federal district. Like Delhi and DC, it does not enjoy the powers that other states enjoy, as the president or the Mexican congress has the authority to introduce bills and make decisions concerning the city. However, it fares better than Washington DC as it has elected representatives in the Mexican congress that can influence decisions.

Looking at these two cases, it might seem that Delhi can do without full statehood. But it is also evident that there is no universal structure of governing capital cities. In fact, there are city-states like Brussels (Belgium) and Berlin (Germany), and cities in provinces like Ottawa (Canada), Cape Town and Pretoria (South Africa). Actually, South Africa has no constitutionally designated capital. Both Cape Town and Pretoria are part of metropolitan municipalities and do not enjoy any special benefits. The national government regulates powers for all municipalities and provides finances; and the provincial governments are responsible for oversight of municipalities’ functions.

Way forward

A one-size-fits-all policy is clearly not applicable. Every city, be it a national capital or not, should be free to determine its structure of governance. Delhi too, could be justified in switching to a different model, that is, full statehood.

The New Delhi Municipal Corporation area is the seat of the central government and most embassies. It should have a Centre-controlled police force. The Delhi police should be given to GNCTD so that the state government gets the authority and is also accountable for controlling crime. Although the demand for control over police and MCD is justified, if Delhi becomes a full state, the DDA would become defunct in the state’s territory because under the 74th constitutional amendment, land use and urban planning is a mandate of the local government. If the AAP government truly believes in decentralisation, it should devolve this responsibility and related finances to the MCD.

Granting full statehood to Delhi would ensure that all agencies presently under Union control are answerable to the GNCTD and through them become directly accountable to people of Delhi. Coordination is likely to improve and the constant blame game between Union and the state government would stop. However, full statehood will have considerable impact on the finances of GNCTD. While it would earn some through land revenues, the burden of financing large infrastructural projects and the police would fall on GNCTD. This could mean increased tax burden on the people of Delhi. So while the AAP government continues its rampage against the Union, it must tell the public how it plans to allocate funds for the Delhi police, the MCD and the DDA. 

Apula Singh is a research associate at Vision India Foundation. She has a Masters in Urban Policy and Governance from TISS Mumbai.