By Dr. Gyan Pathak
The unanimous verdict delivered on May 11 by a five-judge constitutional bench of the Supreme Court of India on power struggle in Delhi between the elected government of the National Capital Territory and the Centre’s steps of usurping the powers of the state is significant for the country, since Modi government of the Centre has been alleged of encroaching the powers of the states destroying the constitutional federalism of the country.
The five-judge Supreme Court bench led by the Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud, and comprised of Justices M R Shah, Krishna Murari, Hima Kohli, and P S Narasimha, has categorically said that the Centre can’t take over governance and the real power must stay with elected government of the state. The bench delivered this judgement on the issue whether the Central Government or the Delhi government has administrative control over the transfers and posting of Civil servants in the in the Nation Capital Territory Delhi.
Though AAP has claimed it to be a big win for the party, it would actually have a bearing on all states that have been ruled by non-BJP political parties and alleging interference by the Centre led by PM Narendra Modi of the BJP. States have been alleging that Centre has been doing politics through numerous centrally sponsored schemes and interfering not only in subjects of concurrent list but also in the subjects which are exclusively in the state list or the departments under the Panchayati Raj.
Supreme Court has ruled in favour of the Delhi government over control on administrative services in the national capital and holds that it must have control over bureaucrats. It also holds that if administrative services are excluded from the legislative and executive domains, the ministers would be excluded from controlling the civil servants who are to implement the executive decisions.
In case of Delhi, Supreme Court has said that the control over services shall extend to entries related to public order, police and land. However, Delhi government similar to other states represent the representative form of government and any further expansion of the Union’s power will be contrary to the Constitution Scheme of the country. Moreover, if the officers stop reporting to the ministers or do not abide by their directions, the principle of collective responsibility is affected.
The Constitutional Bench has ruled that the LG cannot have all encompassing administrative supervision over all issues relating to UT of Delhi, and said that LG’s powers do not empower him to interfere with the legislative powers of the Delhi assembly and elected government. It is a significant decision because several opposition ruled states have issues with their Governors, an appointee of the Centre.
States too have the power, the bench said, but the executive power of the state will subject to the law existing of the Union. It has to be ensured that the governance of States is not taken over by the Union of India.
The principle of democracy and federalism form a part of basic structure of the Constitution, that ensures the survival of diverse interests and accommodate diverse needs, the verdict has asserted.
NCT Delhi has been victim of power struggle between the BJP and the AAP ever since Narendra Modi became the prime minister of the country in May 2014. Delhi at that time was under President’s rule after Arvind Kejriwal had resigned on February 14, 2014, just after ruling the state for only 49 days, on account of his inability to mobilise support for his proposed anti-corruption legislation.
However, in Legislative Assembly Election of Delhi, Kejriwal led AAP served a humiliated defeat to BJP, winning 67 seats out of 70. BJP could win only 3 seats. Modi government at the centre could not eschew this defeat, and started putting every kind of hurdle in the way of functioning of the elected Delhi government through their appointee Lieutenant Governor. Tussle between the Delhi Government and Lieutenant Governor thus began which later exacerbated in 2018 which prompted AAP government to go to court arguing that its decisions were constantly being over-ridden by the Lieutenant Governor (LG), who acts as the Centre’s representative in Delhi.
The case thereafter came to be known as Delhi Govt vs Centre, in which Supreme Court has settled the issue as to who controls administrative service in Delhi – a question that led to years of tussle between the Arvind Kejriwal led AAP government and the LG. Bureaucrats’ appointments were cancelled, files were not cleared, and basic decision-making was obstructed, the Delhi government had told the court.
In its landmark judgement next year in 2019, the Supreme Court said that the elected government of Delhi is the boss. SC had also made it clear that except for issues linked to land, police and public order, the Lieutenant Governor has “no independent decision-making powers” under the Constitution of India. LG has to act on the aid and advice of the elected government and cannot function as “an obstructionist”, SC had said, adding, “There is no room for absolutism and there is no room for anarchism also.”
Later, a regular three judge bench was formed on the appeals relating to individual aspects including services, which appealed then referred the matter to the Constitution Bench on the Centre’s request.
AAP had re-emerged victorious in 2020 general election of the state by winning 62 seats while BJP suffered humiliating defeat again and could will on 8 seats. BJP led Centre then amended the GNCTD Act in 2021 and changed the meaning of the Delhi Government to mean ‘Lieutenant Governor’ in place of the elected government of Delhi. It then became impossible for the Government of Delhi led by Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal to function properly and independently since he needed prior permission of the LG in major decision. Administrative services were most affected since the election governments power to appoint, transfer, and control staff and officials ceased to be.
Situation worsened further, after the MCD election in which AAP gained spectacular win in 2022 MCD election replacing BJP’s 15 years rule. BJP created hurdles in even Mayoral election, and after a legal fight only APP could get its mayor in April 2023.
Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal had often complained that he could not even appoint a ‘peon’ without Centre’s permission and bureaucrats didn’t obey his governments orders as their cadre controlling authority was the Union Home Ministry. The unanimous judgment of the Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court of India is therefore historical in this background, and hence a thing to be celebrated not only by AAP but also the entire opposition. (IPA Service)