Delhi Government vs LG’s powers tussle goes to Constitution Bench

As the Supreme Court refers the vexed issue of ‘statehood’ for Delhi to a Constitution Bench, it may take a long time to resolve and the LG will continue to be administrative head of Delhi till then

Photo by Sushil Kumar/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Photo by Sushil Kumar/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

R Venkataraman

The vexed issue of ‘statehood’ for Delhi was referred today to a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court. The immediate implications are that the issue may take a long time to resolve and that the Lieutenant Governor (LG) will continue to be the administrative head of Delhi till then.

The reference was made on a petition by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government of the state of NCT Delhi against an order of the Delhi High Court that held that Delhi is not a state and the LG is actually the administrative head. The reference was made to a larger bench by a division bench of Justices AK Sikri and RK Agrawal which said that it involved a larger constitutional issue.

Previous Delhi LG Najeeb Jung and chief minister Arvind Kejriwal were at logger heads over distribution of power and administration. Kejriwal’s contention was that as an elected chief minister answerable to an elected assembly, he should have control over administration whereas the stand of the LG was that he was the administrative head since Delhi was not a full-fledged state.

Statehood to union territories (UT) has become a joke ever since the first UT Pondicherry, now Puducherry, was given statehood but with the LG at the helm of affairs. Other UTs like Andaman and Nicobar and Lakshadweep are not yet full-fledged ‘states’ and the peculiar case of Chandigarh is that it is the capital of Punjab and Haryana but the city is a union territory.

Now that the issue is going to a Constitution Bench of the apex court, other union territories may also choose to become parties. But it may take years. Hence AAP sources said that the matter would be mentioned before the Chief Justice of India (CJI) for an early day-to-day hearing.

Ever since the Indian capital was rechristened as National Capital Territory of Delhi (NCTD) in 1993, the vexed issue of “statehood” is often surfacing with various political parties including the Congress and the BJP demanding “full statehood” to NCT Delhi but nothing is done, even when both the parties were in power at the Centre.

Some legal observers hold that the Delhi state assembly’s powers are limited enough to border on farce. In many ways, it is nothing but a rehabilitation centre for politicians and bureaucrats, they maintain. If one looks at the business rules of the NCT Delhi Act, they may be able to only spray mosquito repellents. Even that may not be possible as mosquito is the subject of the four elected Municipal Corporations of Delhi, which rarely pay any heed to the elected government of NCT Delhi.

The so-called “state subjects” like land and law and order (police) are also not under the Delhi state government. Land is under the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) which comes under the Union Urban Development ministry, while Delhi Police falls under the Union Home Ministry.

Then what is the Delhi assembly empowered to do? The only answer is that under section 19 of its rules of business, it can fix salaries and perks for the MLAs.

Thus till the Constitution Bench decides either way, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal will remain as “helpless” as he accused his predecessor of being.

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Published: 15 Feb 2017, 8:36 PM