BJP's U-Turn on Statehood For Delhi Will Haunt the Capital

The recent high court order vesting all decision-making powers with the lieutenant governor will interrupt the national capital’s progress on all fronts.

File photo of Delhi lieutenant governor Najeeb Jung with chief minister Arvind Kejriwal. Credit: PTI

File photo of Delhi lieutenant governor Najeeb Jung with chief minister Arvind Kejriwal. Credit: PTI

“Today there is rule of bureaucracy in Delhi. Whom should the people of Delhi approach for redressal of their grievances and problems as there is no political structure… Delhi should have been provided a unified authority to solve its problems effectively. But I want to say that the proposed bill has shattered the dreams of the people of Delhi,” BJP MP Madan Lal Khurana had said in parliament, vehemently opposing Article 239AA and Government of National Capital Territory (GNCT) Bill, 1991 (which later became the GNCT Act of 1992).

Delhi then was a city of eight million people. The new provisions were meant to grant its people an elected assembly, a chief minister and a council of ministers with legislative and executive powers to deal with all matters in the state list, save three subjects – public order, police and land. But Khurana argued that the proposed scheme would perpetuate the system of disaggregated powers and diffused responsibilities. He also opposed the move to keep the police out of the chief minister’s ambit, saying, “Law and order situation is the main problem in Delhi. How will the chief minister solve it if he does not have this department under his control?”

L.K. Advani, leader of the opposition at the time, had said, “If the government ruling the entire country rules over Delhi, it will neglect its duties as a national government and will do injustice to the people. Delhi has mostly been under the direct control of the central government. If the Centre again puts it under its control, it is the bureaucracy which will govern Delhi instead of people’s representatives”.

The BJP then was wholeheartedly demanding full statehood for Delhi, while the Congress wanted the Centre to retain control. The BJP allowed the constitutional amendment and the GNCT bill to pass only after then home minister’s S.B. Chavan’s assurance that all the concerns they raised would be addressed by the Centre in the future.

Changed stance

Twenty-five years later, Delhi is a city of 20 million people and it’s the BJP in power at the Centre. The Congress is in oblivion. And more importantly, while both parties once promised full statehood for Delhi if voted to power, they are now opposing it. Arvind Kejriwal, who was a 22-year old mechanical engineer back in 1991, is the chief minister.

But after the Delhi high court verdict on August 4, the man of the moment is not the chief minister, but the lieutenant governor of Delhi, Najeeb Jung, a former bureaucrat. His self-indulgent full page interviews are filling national dailies, while prime time TV anchors contentedly air his exclusive interviews.

On Monday, Jung issued a memorandum to all secretaries of the Delhi government, declaring himself as “the competent authority” and directing that “no order in future be issued without his approval”. He also asked officers to review all decisions taken since the Aam Aadmi Party came to power and send him all files for which his approval was not taken. The final decision would, of course, rest with him. As feared by Advani and Khurana, the council of ministers has been reduced to a nullity and the rule of bureaucracy is back.

It’s important to recount the sequence of events between the Kejriwal government coming to power in February 2015 and the recent high court decision. Two months after Kejriwal took over, the Modi government took ‘services’ out of the purview of the democratically-elected Delhi government, denying it the power to hire or remove officers, a key tool to extract performance from officials. Then it took away the anti-corruption bureau and with it the power of the Delhi government to take action against its corrupt employees. Then it ruled that the Delhi government did not have the power to institute commissions of inquiry and scrapped the commissions set up to inquire into the CNG fitness and DDCA scams. These were the decisions and actions challenged before the high court. The court, in its wisdom, upheld each of them.

Fundamental questions

The next round of litigation will be in the Supreme Court. Various fundamental issues are in question.

Can the elected council of ministers and chief minister be subservient to bureaucrats? Can the Centre’s claim to control the affairs of Delhi override the people’s fundamental right to good and responsible governance? Can an elected government function without the basic power to transfer and hire its officers? Can such a government extract performance from its officers without the powers to punish or reward them? What is the status of the legislative assembly of Delhi, which represents the sovereign will of the people? Can criminal investigation and law and order, which according to the Supreme Court judgment in Ram Manohar Lohia vs State of Bihar is different from public order, be kept out of the purview of the elected government? Is the Centre violating the right to life and liberty of the 20 million people of Delhi? How will the council of ministers ensure people’s right to health, education, sanitation, housing and socio-economic welfare without the power to get its decisions implemented?

S.B. Chavan had rebutted the objections raised by Advani and Khurana in Lok Sabha by stating, “the central government will have to intervene to see that all the amenities are provided in such a manner that not only the people of Delhi, but also those who come from different parts of India and also from abroad, should be able to feel happy by comparing Delhi with any other capital city”.

Today, every four hours a rape and every two hours a case of molestation is reported in Delhi. Five minor girls get raped every two days, marking 46% of the total rape cases reported in in the last three years. The horrific Jyoti Singh gangrape forced the Centre to tighten rape laws, but the law enforcement machinery in Delhi remains moribund. In 2014, around 11,000 cases of crimes against women were registered in Delhi. Till October 2015, the police had filed a chargesheet in only 50% of those. The national rate of conviction in rape cases is 28%, in Delhi it is 17%. A proposal to recruit an additional 67,000 police personnel, though cleared by home ministry, has been blocked by the union finance ministry. Delhi also tops the list for crimes against foreign tourists, with 135 cases registered in 2014. Many nations like the US and the UK routinely issue advisories to their women citizens travelling to Delhi.

The request for allotment of land to construct six new court complexes, ten new hospitals, 200 new schools and 100 new bus depots is pending with the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) for one and a half years. To get one big development project cleared from all authorities, it takes roughly two to three years. The Municipal Corporation of Delhi, Public Works Department, DDA, Delhi Jal Board and the like, all work under different authorities.

To lay sewer lines all over the city, 50% of which doesn’t have lines till date, the Delhi government needs Rs 23,000 crores. To clean up the Yamuna, it would cost Rs 6,000 crores. To make the city slum-free, the government needs Rs 30,000 crores (excluding the cost of land).

Delhi gets a grant of Rs 325 crores and Rs 395 crores as central plan allocation every year. This amount has not increased since 2002. Had Delhi been a state, it would have received around Rs 7,000 crores every year as its share of central taxes. Had it been a union territory without a legislature, it would have been imperative for the Centre to fund the development projects. Its hybrid status puts Delhi neither here nor there.

Clearly, it is not a feel-good situation, unlike S.B. Chavan had promised. The very rationale of improving local governance through an elected assembly is being defeated by the Centre’s actions.

A part of the battle for Delhi’s rights will be fought in the apex court, part will be waged in peoples’ court.

James Madison wrote in Federalist Paper No 46: “The federal and State Governments are in fact but different agents and trustees of the people, instituted with different powers, and designated for different purposes…the ultimate authority, wherever the derivative may be found, resides in the people alone; and that it will not depend merely on the comparative ambition or address of the different governments”.

Being a union territory or a state is a mere administrative arrangement; who represents the will of the people and who is responsible to deliver good and effective governance is the question. Above all, these need to be settled. Since the final verdict may take a year or more, the Delhi government must pray for an interim order which restores all the necessary powers with the Delhi government, so that 20 million people of Delhi don’t have to suffer.

Ashish Khetan is a senior member of the Aam Aadmi Party and the vice chairman of the Dialogue and Development Commission of Delhi.