Lieutenant Governor (LG) of Delhi and the state government have been at loggerheads ever since chief minister Arvind Kejriwal took over the reins of the city for the first time in 2013 for a brief period and then continuously so far since mid-2015. Many a time the ruling Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi took protests to the streets on various issues on which the LG and the state government did not agree. So much so that even dirty linens were washed in public. The matter reached the doorstep of the Supreme Court of India to define the powers of LG and the Delhi government. The apex court cleared some air while many issues were supposedly still left to be addressed. So, more intervention was apparently required for the smooth functioning of the city having a population of over 2 crore people with a huge floating population.
To avoid confrontation between the elected state government and the union government-appointed authority, the parliament cleared the National Capital Territory of Delhi (Amendment) Bill, 2021. It says the “government” in Delhi would now refer to the lieutenant governor in the context of all laws passed in Delhi, and the opinion of the lieutenant governor will be mandatory before any executive action is taken. Further the “legislative assembly shall not make any rule to enable itself or its committees to consider the matters of day-to-day administration or conduct inquiries.”
Peeping into the past, Delhi was part of the Punjab province before it came under the central administration under the chief commissioner when the British moved the Indian capital from Kolkata to Delhi in 1911. After the independence of the country, the matter was brought before the Constituent Assembly as, besides Delhi, Ajmer and Coorg (Kodagu) were administered by a chief commissioner too.
So a committee was constituted under former Indian National Congress (INC) president Pattabhi Sitaramayya who had studied the administrative mechanism of London, Washington DC, Ottawa and Canberra. Pattabhi Sitaramayya, who chaired the Committee of Chief Commissioner’s Provinces, which made recommendations on the administrative and legislative set up for Delhi that were later adopted by the Constituent Assembly, recommended constitution of state assembly albeit giving supreme authority to the lieutenant governor as the representative of the president.
However, there are varied views among constitutional experts on the issue of giving more power to Delhi. Some say that the people of Delhi deserve more care and privilege; so, the state government needs more power and authority. Others feel that giving more power to the Delhi government would crop up constitutional crisis as Delhi houses the President House, Prime Minister’s Office and residence, the Supreme Court of India and many other offices of the union government. Confrontation is bound to happen with more power to the state government.
Various political parties have been demanding full statehood status to Delhi. Justice Sarkaria Commission was set up on centre-state relation, which was later handed over to Justice Balakrishnan. The commission supported the recommendation made by Sitaramayya Committee too. The committees were in agreement that the union government should prevail except on issues of local administration.
As for democratically elected government in the capital cities in other countries, there is a need to understand that London has a democratic elected government but the United Kingdom is not a federal state rather a unitary monarchy while the US capital Washington DC is just a district council. Delhi was a union territory before 1991 with an administrator as the agent of the president. Earlier a part of Punjab as one of its districts, Delhi got a status of union territory in 1956. The 69th Amendment of the Constitution might be claimed as the watershed moment for Delhi as it got an assembly with the enactment of the National Capital Territory Act, 1991. By and large, one can say that Delhi is a union territory with a legislature where both union and state authorities are in charge. But there lies the trouble, as Delhi is neither a state nor a union territory.
Delhi is bound to face the constitutional lacuna which the Government of the day at the Centre is trying to address with the new legislation. Things are different for Delhi as there are so many subjects in the state and Union list that might cause confrontation between the Centre and the state. The state list consists of subjects like public order, police, prison, land acquisition, right over property and revenue collection. On the issue of undefined power to the LG and the Chief Minister, the Centre had faced tricky situations many a time.
The present state government in Delhi led by Arvind Kejriwal is accusing the Narendra Modi government of not letting it function as per the mandate of the people of Delhi given to the Kejriwal government in Delhi. However, there is an alleged accusation against the Delhi government that, due to its populist policies and mismanagement of finances, the development of the city has come to a halt. There is a case in point that former Delhi Chief Minister Late Sheila Dikshit had ruled the state for three consecutive terms but no such unpleasant situation ever emerged despite the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government being in power for some of those years, with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee at the helm when she was the Delhi chief minister.
This argument is untenable that the elected government in Delhi should be given more power for its peculiar situation. It cannot be given power similar to any other state Government as Delhi houses all the important offices of the Central Government. The demand of the Delhi government to be given more power is untenable because this will open Pandora’s box.