Delhi & Lt Governor

Under close watch

Print edition : January 20, 2017

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Delhi Lieutenant Governor Najeeb Jung during the ceremonial reception of the Chinese President in New Delhi. A file photo. Photo: PTI

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal greets Anil Baijal after he was sworn in as the new Lieutenant Governor in New Delhi on December 31. Photo: PTI

BJP president Amit Shah. Photo: PTI

Nripendra Mishra, Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister. Photo: Kamal Narang

Multiple RTI applications reveal that the PMO has been taking an extraordinary interest in matters linked to the administration of Delhi since the AAP came to power.

ON December 22, the office of the Lieutenant Governor (LG) of Delhi, Najeeb Jung, issued a statement that he had “submitted his resignation to the Government of India”. Political circles in the national capital were taken by surprise and speculation peaked about the possible causes for the unexpected decision, as the statement did not mention any reason for his resignation. Curiously, according to senior officials, Jung had not sent his resignation letter to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) or the President’s Secretariat, institutions to which the LG reports, but to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). The next morning, around 11 a.m., Jung walked into the PMO and had an hour-long meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Speaking with a few reporters after the meeting, Jung said that twice in the past he had offered to resign, but Modi had asked him to continue as LG.

This was a rare, if not the only, instance since February 2015, when the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) came to power in Delhi, of a senior official representing the Centre publicly confirming the Prime Minister’s association with an issue linked to the administration of Delhi. Until now, only Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and the AAP have asserted that Modi and his office had been “interfering” in the national capital’s local administration. In response, leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as well as senior Ministers in the Union government often ridiculed or dismissed the claims, accusing Kejriwal of trying to drag the Prime Minister into local matters.

However, evidence gathered by Frontline through multiple right to information (RTI) applications to the MHA and other institutions and interviews with government officials reveal that the PMO has not only been monitoring the Government of the National Capital Territory (GNCT) of Delhi but also closely following up on matters linked to it since March 2015, barely a month after the new Delhi government was sworn in.

Since that date, the country has been witness to a public and courtroom tussle over administrative jurisdiction between Kejriwal and the Centre, at the heart of which lies a special constitutional framework created in the early 1990s for governing the NCT of Delhi. The Constitution (69th Amendment) Act, 1991, inserted Articles 239AA and 239AB into this framework. It was brought into force in February 1992. This Act, together with the GNCT of Delhi Act 1991, Article 239 of the Constitution, and Transaction of Business of the GNCT of Delhi Rules, 1993, are critical components of the framework that was expected to guide disparate agencies administering Delhi. As per this framework, executive functions relating to public order, police and land rest with the LG, who, in other matters, “is required to act on the aid and advice of his Council of Ministers.” The LG is the “administrator” appointed by the Centre, or more specifically the President, and has more powers than the Governors of States.

However, controversies and turf battles between the GNCT and the Centre have been frequent. These were witnessed during previous regimes too on account of differing interpretations by governments about legal provisions. Former Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, for instance, had differences with both the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government in 2002 and with the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government later.

Some commentators have called the provisions vague and argued for the necessity to grant full Statehood to permanently address the disputes over administrative turf. However, in the absence of that and the presence of governments run by different parties with brute majorities in both the Centre and the NCT of Delhi, the turf battle has been particularly pronounced. The Kejriwal government petitioned the Delhi High Court in several specific instances when disputes arose and the court broadly ruled in favour of the Centre in August. The matter will come up before the Supreme Court for final arguments on January 18. Before the final verdict is delivered, these two assertive power centres in Delhi and an influential and active PMO have created a political situation unlike in any other State across the country.

The first instance

This correspondent inquired into two specific instances which clearly revealed the PMO’s monitoring of the much-publicised turf battles between Jung and Kejriwal. The first instance concerns an email sent by Shishir Gupta, the Executive Editor of Hindustan Times, on March 28, 2015, to BJP national president Amit Shah and Officer on Special Duty (IT) in the PMO, Hiren Joshi. In his email, whose subject line was “KEJRIWAL AGAINST CENTRE”, Gupta wrote: “Delhi Chief Minister Kejriwal is on course to abrogate all powers of the Centre in NCR with neither the Home Ministry nor the BJP MLAs/Pradesh unit doing anything to contest it. The buzz in Delhi Govt is that BJP will do nothing to aggravate issues with Kejriwal due to its impact on forthcoming Bihar poll.” Gupta listed nine specific decisions taken by the Delhi Chief Minister and his government and called them “example of violations by Kejriwal” (see “Full text of the email”). The first “example of violation” cited by Gupta is about the routing of files concerning public order, the police and land through the Chief Minister’s Office before they are sent to the LG’s office and this issue appears to have brought the turf battle into the public domain. The LG subsequently asked Kejriwal that the files from senior bureaucrats be sent directly to him.

The email was drafted in such a manner that it did not seek a response from the BJP president or the PMO but only passed on information. Interestingly, a story by the Executive Editor was published on the front page of the April 1 New Delhi edition of HT with a headline suggesting that Kejriwal was exceeding his jurisdiction: “On collision course: Delhi CM Kejriwal steps on LG Jung’s toes”. It reported only the first “example of violation” and did not mention the others and steered clear of the details mentioned in the email about political issues. “Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and Lieutenant Governor Najeeb Jung are on a collision course, with the AAP leader directing that all files pertaining to reserved subjects of police, public order and land be routed through him,” Gupta wrote. There has not been any other story on the issue by him since then.

However, in his response to queries sent by Frontline about the letter, Gupta insisted that the email “contains the outline of my then proposed story” and that it was written in the form of “conclusions” to seek “comments and response of PMO and the BJP party president” for writing a news story.

His email, which Gupta said did not get a response from Amit Shah or Hiren Joshi, appears to have been taken far more seriously by the PMO. Documents accessed from the MHA through RTI showed that on the afternoon of March 31, the PMO’s top official, Nripendra Misra, called Anant Kumar Singh, Additional Secretary (CS) in the Home Ministry, to his office and sought a “factual report” on the email in less than five days. Marked urgent, his single-page record of the meeting and subsequent notes by MHA bureaucrats on it as follow-ups revealed the importance given to the issue in the North Block office.

Anant Kumar Singh wrote: “Today I was called by the Principal Secretary to PM in his office at 12.30 p.m. He gave me an email dated 28.03.2015 received from Shri Shishir Gupta, which is placed at flag ‘A’ and desired that a factual report on the same shall be sent to him by this Friday. As the offices are closing after Wednesday, it will be advisable to seek the report from the Lt Governor (LG) by Wednesday evening so that the desired report is sent in time to PMO. Accordingly, a letter addressed to LG for seeking factual details and his views on the assertions made in the mail mentioned above is placed below for approval.”

This note was seen by the then Home Secretary, L.C. Goyal. A draft of the letter to the LG seeking the factual report was indeed prepared, but never sent, as the LG’s response was received the same day. A note on the page on March 31 confirmed this: “A letter from LG has since come. We need not send this letter.”

The subsequent factual report, which if it was indeed sent to the PMO, could not be found on both occasions when this correspondent inspected a bunch of files requested in multiple RTI applications from the MHA, including the one which had Gupta’s email and related documents (RCN: 483718/AS (CS)/2015), in February and August. A separate but related RTI application to the PMO did not yield much information. Significantly, later tussles between the LG and the AAP government also broadly adhered to a line of authority as articulated by the MHA in subsequent communications related to the issues flagged in the email.

The second instance

In April and May, the PMO appears to have retained extraordinary interest in Delhi’s matters. The second instance concerns the contentious issue of the jurisdiction of the AAP government’s Anti-Corruption Branch (ACB). The battle against corruption being its key plank, in its early months the Kejriwal administration and AAP-dominated Assembly (67 of the 70 MLAs belong to the AAP) did several things to emphasise, in the public eye, their commitment to curbing corruption. Two such actions became contentious.

The first was the arrest of a Delhi Police official by the ACB for alleged corruption and a resolution passed by the Delhi Assembly condemning the Union government for its attempt to “dilute the efforts for eradication of corruption from Delhi by curtailing the jurisdiction of the Anti-Corruption Branch”. The second related to a July 23, 2014, notification issued by the MHA, which emphasised that the ACB could only take action against Delhi government employees; prior to the notification, the ACB had the power to act against anyone within the NCT of Delhi.

In a letter to the MHA on April 8, Jung sought legal opinion on two issues: the July 23, 2014, notification and the Delhi Assembly resolution.

Two days later, before this request was sent to Attorney General (AG) Mukul Rohatgi, Law Secretary P.K. Malhotra signed off on a page which had a typed explanation about the legal opinion to be sought and the following text written in longhand in the bottom half as a note: “Ld. AG has earlier seen this matter and given his opinion on page 36/n. The present reference from page 50/n is the result of letter dated 08.04.2015 (Annex A) received from Lt. Governor, Delhi. Home Ministry, in consultation with PMO, desires opinion of Ld. AG. May kindly see [sic].”

Clearly, the shadow of the PMO lingered on this issue, too. While these are specific and documented instances, officials mentioned, off the record, several instances about the PMO’s interest in specific administrative measures being undertaken in Delhi. According to an official in the LG’s office, who requested anonymity, the most recent instance was considering a query made barely a couple of months ago concerning the installation of CCTV cameras, incidentally one of the important election promises of the AAP.

Aware of the PMO’s extraordinary interest in his government, Kejriwal said, in reaction to a notification issued by the MHA in the third week of May 2015 concerning the power to appoint bureaucrats in key positions in the Delhi government: “LG Jung is the face, but the order comes from above. The PMO acts like the Queen of London, with the Lieutenant Governor as Viceroy.” Queries seeking clarification about the two instances documented above were sent to the PMO but a response was not received at the time of going to press.

It remains to be seen how things unfold in the future since Jung has left the LG’s office and Anil Baijal has taken over. Stories abound on why Baijal’s name was cleared by the PMO before the MHA sent it to the President for official appointment. If the track record of the past 22 months is anything to go by, there cannot be much let-up in the PMO’s interest in the Delhi government and administration. Some sections close to the AAP said that the extraordinary interest would not only sustain but get more intense, not a very heartening prospect for the AAP government.

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