Full Statehood back on the agenda
With the escalating conflict between Delhi’s Chief Minister, Arvind Kejriwal and Lieutenant Governor, Najeeb Jung, the peculiarities of the city-state’s governance structure are back in the spotlight. Another battle line bubbling beneath the surface, albeit without the same kind of media glare, is that between the Delhi government and the Municipal Corporation Department (MCD). This too had come to the fore in March, when the three municipal corporations demanded that the Delhi government pay the salaries of the striking <g data-gr-id="74">safai</g> <g data-gr-id="75">karamcharis</g>. While these conflicts between the State government, the Centre and the MCD may come to the surface occasionally, the citizens of Delhi are not unfamiliar with the governance mess that exists in this city. Anyone who has tried to get a heap of garbage cleared from outside their apartment or attempted to get a broken sewage line repaired, would have come across the multiplicity of authorities – be it the MCD, the DDA, the Delhi Jal Board, the MLA or Councillor - without any single one of them being accountable for the job at hand. It is this messy multiplicity that has given rise to periodic demands for full statehood for Delhi.
Governance of the national capital is always a complex issue, and most countries across the world have struggled to find appropriate solutions for it. On the one hand is the ‘national’ dimension of a capital city, as it houses all national institutions of the legislature, the executive and the judiciary; it hosts international embassies and diplomats, and often ‘national’ monuments. The capital city often has great symbolic value for the image a nation and its government wish to convey to the larger world. And these are the reasons why national governments wish to retain control over the governance of the capital city. However, the ‘national’ dimension is in contradiction with the needs of the citizens who live and work in the city that need well-functioning basic amenities, public transport and security. It is these latter needs that often suffer neglect when capital cities are governed by national governments. Unfortunately, this is precisely the dilemma that has existed as far as Delhi is concerned.
At the time of Independence, Delhi was a Chief Commissioner’s province. In 1956, it became a Union Territory. A year later, the Delhi Municipal Corporation and the Delhi Development Authority Acts were enacted to promote the growth and development of the city. However, despite these landmark legislations, there was a demand for a democratic government for Delhi, which could focus on fulfilling the needs of the citizens of the city. In partial fulfilment of this demand, the Delhi Administration Act was enacted in 1966, which provided for the creation of a Metropolitan Council, which was a deliberative body that had 56 elected members and 5 other nominated by the president. It was headed by the Lieutenant <g data-gr-id="58">Governor,</g> and was empowered to recommend but not legislate. It was intended as a compromise between an elected legislature and rule by the President. And yet the governance of Delhi – especially because of its growing and socio-economically diverse population – remained a matter of concern.
In 1989, the Balakrishnan Committee set up by the Government of India recommended that Delhi needed an elected Legislature and Council of Ministers to deal with matters that concern the common person in this city. It was based on this recommendation that the Government of National Capital Territory (GNCT) Act was passed in 1991, along with Constitutional Amendments that introduced Articles 239AA and 239AB in the Constitution, providing for a Legislative Assembly in Delhi. The Legislative Assembly was given power to legislate and govern on all matters in the State List except Land, Police and Public Order, as these were supposed to be essential for the ‘national’ functions of the capital.
As an elected Legislature has governed Delhi for the past 22 years, several shortcomings in this governance structure have emerged. One, the Delhi Municipal Corporation Act predated the formation of the Legislative Assembly, so the Municipal Bodies, which fulfil various essential functions, remain accountable to the Union government and not the elected Delhi government. Two, the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) is under the control of the Ministry of Urban Development. With both these institutions under the Union government, the ability of the elected government of Delhi to meet the needs of the people gets severely curtailed. Three, with the Delhi Police being under the Home Ministry, which is meant to ensure security to the entire country, there is an unsurprising neglect of security provision outside Lutyens Delhi, which has been brought to light by horrific incidents of rape in the capital.
It is for these reasons that there is a repeated demand for full statehood for Delhi so that the elected government can control the provision of essential services for Delhi’s citizens. Moreover, with the multiplicity of authorities and the lack of clarity about their relationship, governance and delivery has suffered. And while the ‘national’ dimensions of the city need to be recognised and provided for, there is a substantive devolution of power that can be done to the Government of Delhi; a detailed blueprint for which has been made by the Second Administrative Reforms Commission (ARC) in 2005. These include chairing of DDA by the Chief Minister of Delhi, control of MCD by Delhi government (with an exclusion of certain zones which have national significance), broader security to be retained by the Union government with traffic and local policing being devolved.
As Delhi faces governance related challenges and conflicts today, it is the spirit of the city’s institutional evolution that needs to be understood and taken further. Delhi’s institutional evolution has shown a move towards the need to transfer power into the hands of elected representatives of the people, in line with the pattern of democratic evolution throughout history. It is this spirit that needs to be respected and furthered, not curtailed. And it is in this light that the recommendations of the Second ARC are significant, as they reflect that if the Union Government is committed to the interests of the people of Delhi, the governance crisis can be resolved without compromising national interests. What remains to be seen is whether the Union government will gracefully devolve these <g data-gr-id="71">powers,</g> or will they eventually do the same under duress and pressure from the people of Delhi?
(Atishi Marlena is a social activist and policy researcher, who has been with the Aam Aadmi Party for the past two years. Views expressed are personal)