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More questions than answers

In a verdict that has baffled many observers, the Delhi High Court on Thursday ruled that the Lieutenant Governor is the administrative head of the National Capital Region. The Court has dismissed the Aam Aadmi Party’s contention that the LG must act on the advice of the Delhi Cabinet. It also ruled that the Council of Ministers must confer with the LG before making any decisions. 

Breaking down the verdict a little further, the court stated that it was not unconstitutional for the LG to exercise his power on the appointment of bureaucrats. It also said that various appointments, including the inquiry panel for the Delhi and District Cricket Association, were illegal without the LG’s approval. And finally, it also maintained that central services outside the purview of the Delhi government could not be investigated by the Anti-Corruption Bureau. Suffice it to say, the verdict has thrown up more questions than answers. 

To the uninitiated, the AAP government in the national capital had moved the High Court after the Ministry of Home Affairs passed a notification on May 21 giving “unprecedented powers” to the LG. On the face of it, this verdict has brought relief to some powerful people including the likes of Reliance Industries Chief Mukesh Ambani, former Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, and current Union Minister Arun Jaitley, who are being investigated by the ACB on various charges of corruption.    

However, in the larger scheme of things, the verdict has raised some rather uncomfortable questions that are central to the basic ethos of federalism. The AAP government has argued that an elected government must be allowed to choose its own bureaucrats. It argued that the LG is supposed to act on the advice of the elected government. Can an executive appointee, which, in this case, is the LG, overrule the representative government’s choice of bureaucrats? As per the constitutional provisions in place today, the Centre controls land located within the vicinity of the national capital, besides matters involving policing and public order. 

Although the national capital has acquired the status of partial statehood with a state legislature, barely any executive business is conducted without the prying eyes of the Union government.  The entire raison d’être of a legislature is defeated when it possess no real executive powers.  Our editorials in the past have argued that if the Delhi government cannot appoint its own officers, then why have a democratically elected government at all? Why spend vast amounts of public money conducting elections, when the very representatives are unable to conduct business without the prying eyes of the Centre? If an elected legislature is not vested with executive powers, then elections to the Delhi Assembly seem rather pointless.

Through its battles in the court, the AAP government is attempting to address this very anomaly. The ACB, for example, has been in existence for the past 40 years. Until the AAP government began to use the agency to effectively tackle corruption, there was no territorial tug-of-war between the Centre and Delhi government. Although many in the media have billed this recent confrontation as a fight between the AAP and the BJP, one should not lose focus of the larger principle at stake here. 

Unfortunately, members of opposition parties, primarily the BJP and Congress, have lost sight of this principle. Is it any surprise that until the last Delhi Assembly elections, the BJP had raised the issue of full statehood? Only when the BJP took office at the Centre did it drops its demand for full statehood from the party poll manifesto before the Delhi Assembly elections. Even when the Congress ran the Delhi government, similar demands were made for complete statehood.  “We respect Delhi High Court judgement, but we don’t agree with it,” said Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia. “The Constitution gives us the right to appeal against it.” We believe the same too.
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