Delhi's Lieutenant-Governor has no independent decision-making power and should listen to the advice of the council of ministers, the Supreme Court said on Wednesday, stressing the national capital cannot have full statehood.
The L-G's office cannot act as an obstructionist, the court said in a ruling that prompted Delhi's ruling Aam Aadmi Party to claim victory in a long-drawn administrative tussle.
"A big victory for the people of Delhi...a big victory for democracy...," CM Arvind Kejriwal, who had recently held a nine-day protest at L-G Anil Baijal's office, tweeted.
Kejriwal's government has accused the L-G's office of blocking its initiatives, striking a discordant note on several occasions, including on the transfer of bureaucrats.
The difference stems from the unique status of Delhi, a Union Territory where the Lieutenant-Governor, who reports to the Centre, has control over key areas, including police.
The L-G can refer issues on the difference of opinion to President only in exceptional matters and not as a general rule, the top court said. Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra said a regular bench will hear broader issues related to the day-to-day governance in the city.
"The L-G cannot act independently unless where the Constitution allows," CJI Misra said.
The court said the Centre and states must embrace a collaborative federal architecture, according to Bar & Bench's Twitter handle, adding the L-G should work harmoniously with the council of ministers.
The court also said constitutional skirmishes test the resilience of democracy, adding there was no space for anarchy and absolutism in the Constitution.
The verdict by a five-judge constitution Bench headed by CJI Misra came after the hearing on a batch of appeals filed by the Delhi government challenging a Delhi High Court's order holding the L-G as the administrative head of the national capital.
What the AAP government said in the SC
1) The AAP dispensation had argued before the apex court Bench that it possessed both the legislative and executive powers.
2) It had said that the chief minister and the council of ministers had the legislative power to make laws as well as the executive authority to enforce the enacted statutes.
3) The AAP government had argued that the LG has been taking many executive decisions and a "harmonious interpretation" of Article 239AA of the Constitution was needed to fulfil the constitutional mandate for a democratically-elected Delhi government. The article deals with the power and status of Delhi.
4) The Delhi government had accused the LG of making a "mockery of democracy", saying that he was either taking decisions of an elected government or substituting them without having any power.
What the Centre said in the SC
1) The Centre had contended before the Bench that the Delhi government cannot have "exclusive" executive powers as it would be against national interests and referred to the 1989 Balakrishnan committee report that had dealt with the reasons for not granting the status of a state to Delhi.
2) It had also argued that several "illegal" notifications were issued by the Delhi government and they were challenged in the high court.
3) The Centre had referred to the Constitution, the 1991 Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi Act, and the Transaction of Business of the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi Rules to drive home the point that the President, the Union government, and the LG had supremacy over the city dispensation in administering the national capital.
What the SC ruling is meant to address
During the arguments, the apex court had said that it would only lay down the principles on the status of the national capital under the Constitution and not deal with issues arising out of individual notifications issued by the Delhi government on matters like the 'mohalla clinics' and regularisation of guest teachers.
What the Delhi High Court verdict said
The high court, in its August 4, 2016, verdict, had said that the LG is the administrative head of the National Capital Territory and the AAP government's contention that he is bound to act on the advice of the council of ministers was "without substance".
Big lawyers involved in the case
While a battery of senior lawyers -- P Chidambaram, Gopal Subramanium, Rajeev Dhavan, and Indira Jaising -- had argued for the Arvind Kejriwal government, the NDA government at the Centre was represented by Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Maninder Singh in the marathon proceedings.