Union government introduces a Bill in the Lok Sabha curtailing the powers of the elected government in Delhi and arming the Lt Governor with overarching administrative powers

Published : March 17, 2021 21:14 IST

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal with AAP MLAs during a protest meet against the Central government at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi on March 17 Photo: Shiv Kumar Pushpakar

The spectre of Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal once again sitting on a dharna on Delhi roads, spending nights in the open, using public toilets, finishing his official work while sitting in his personal car looms over the capital once again as the Centre has introduced a Bill in the Lok Sabha on March 15, drastically curtailing the Delhi government’s powers and arming the Centre’s representative, the Lieutenant Governor, with overarching powers to take decisions, even in day-to-day administrative functioning.

The Bill, however, ignores the Supreme Court judgment of July 4, 2018, when a Constitution bench specifically ruled that the Lt Governor cannot interfere in decisions of the government and must act on the advice of the Council of Ministers. The Supreme Court also clarified then that the status of the Lt Governor was not the same as that of a Governor and that he remained an administrator only in a limited sense. It was clarified then that the Centre only had power over matters relating to the police, general order and land in Delhi.

The Bill, called Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (Amendment) Bill, 2021, was introduced in the Lok Sabha by G. Kishan Reddy, Union Minister of State for Home Affairs. It gives overarching powers to the Lt Governor even in the day-to-day functioning of the government, empowering him to take decisions on administrative matters. The Lt Governor is appointed by the President, on the advice of the Union government.

The Bill specifically says that the entity “government” in any law shall now be understood to mean the Lt Governor and his opinion will have to be considered for all executive matters. This, in effect, means that all files, even those related to routine administrative functions, will now have to be sent to the Lt Governor for approval. The Bill also bars the Delhi government or its committees from taking up day-to-day administration or conduct inquiries into administrative decisions. The Bill also says the Legislative Assembly shall not make any rule to enable itself or its committees to consider day-to-day administration matters of the national capital or conduct inquiries in relation to administrative decisions.

The Bill, given the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) numerical strength in Parliament, will in all likelihood be passed. But the issue threatens to become a full-blown war between the Kejriwal-led Delhi government and the Centre. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has announced that it will resist the proposal, which has already begun with AAP MPs protesting against the Bill in the Parliament complex on March 17. The Chief Minister and his party colleagues held a dharna at Jantar Mantar in Delhi, vowing to defeat the Centre’s nefarious designs to hijack governance in Delhi.

A miffed Arvind Kejriwal tweeted that after being rejected by the people of Delhi, the BJP sought to curtail the powers of the elected government through a Bill in the Lok Sabha. He said the Bill was “contrary to Constitution bench judgment”, calling it the “BJP’s unconstitutional n anti-democracy move”.

Kejriwal was not only referring to the AAP’s win in last year’s Assembly election, but also to the Municipal Corporation of Delhi byelection in which the BJP drew a blank. Out of the five seats for which election was held on March 3, the AAP won four and the Congress one. In the Assembly election held in February 2020, the BJP, despite all its communal propaganda, could manage only eight seats out of a total of 70.

Manish Sisodia, Deputy Chief Minister of Delhi, called the move a conspiracy to stall the AAP government’s brand of politics, which revolved around performance. He said: “The BJP has nothing to show by way of performance, whereas we sought votes only for our work in the election held last year. People have supported our brand of politics and we are getting votes even in States like Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh. This has unnerved the BJP and they want to stop us from doing our work. But we will not allow that to happen, come what may,” he said.