Politics in Delhi is set to take a new turn with the Supreme Court ruling that the Lieutenant Governor (LG) must act on the advice of the elected city government.
There is jubilation in the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which forms the city government but was hitherto considered legally subordinate to the LG. The ruling overturns the earlier high court order that Delhi is a Union Territory (UT) and the LG its administrative head.
This will have ramifications for other UTs – there is a tug of war in Puducherry between a pro-active LG, Kiran Bedi, and the elected chief minister (CM), V Narayanasamy.
Political activists and analysts say the SC order overturns decades of received wisdom that in UTs, especially Delhi, it is the Union ministry of home affairs, acting through the LG, that runs the state. The court order is clear that barring police, law and public order, and land, the elected government must be free to run the administration and the LG cannot be ‘obstructionist’.
The order adds, "There is no room for absolutism and also no room for anarchism.”
The judgment comes after months of querulous argument and squabbling between the AAP government and successive LGs. The former has charged that all decisions taken by it were being overturned or simply not implemented, even after debate and passage by the legislature, the Vidhana Sabha. So fractious was the war and so deep the frustration of the government that it culminated in a physical attack on the Delhi government’s chief secretary, Anshu Prakash. The chief minister, Arvind Kejriwal, is among those accused.
The judgement was pronounced in the court by Chief Justice Dipak Misra, heading a five-judge Constitution Bench. Two other judges, A K Sikri and A M Khanwilkar, concurred with him. The other two gave separate but largely concurring verdicts.
The court has said all decisions of the council of ministers must be communicated to the LG but that does not mean his concurrence is required. Two judges, D Y Chandrachud and Ashok Bhushan, offered a dissenting judgment.
For months, this is exactly what the Kejriwal government has been arguing, for primacy to the elected government. After the order, Manish Sisodia, the Deputy CM, tweeted that the city government would now not have to send all files to the LG with the foreknowledge that, given political equations, the LG would overturn the decision. However, former CM and Congress party leader Sheila Dikshit said the fault lay in the way the government was run. She said her government was in power for 15 years and she faced no major difference of opinion with the LG. Ajay Maken, the city Congress president, said: “Now, since the apex court has clarified about the powers in Delhi, we hope that the development which has been stalled ever since the Congress was voted out of power four years ago will start again”.
In somewhat bad grace, the Bharatiya Janata Party, which runs the central government and has been campaigning against the Kejriwal government, said: “It is a good thing that the Supreme Court has clarified. Kejriwal has been running a government of dharna and anarchy. The court has dealt a severe blow to Kejriwal. He must now leave the politics of anarchy and move towards governance.”
Postings and transfers of bureaucrats, like the appointment of Shakuntala Gamlin as chief secretary, overruling the recommendation of the elected government, angered the CM. He had said he did not have the authority – despite having been elected by the people of Delhi – to appoint even a peon. And, that bureaucrats would not obey him because the cadre controlling authority was the Union home ministry.
In May, Kejriwal and his ministerial colleagues sat on a dharna outside the LG’s office, against his decision to overrule the installation of CCTV cameras across the city, a policy intended to make the city safer for women. The LG said the decision was taken according to his extant laws and powers.
It is hard to say if all differences between the elected government and the LG will now go away. But governments in UTs have definitely been empowered. As the Puducherry CM said: “Whoever functions contrary to the judgment now delivered by the apex court would face serious action. I myself would file a contempt petition against those failing to act in consonance with the SC verdict” --a warning to the LG over his administration.