A new bill giving sweeping powers to Delhi’s Lieutenant Governor is a regressive and undemocratic move as it amounts to negating the public mandate of an elected government by usurping its powers and undermining the federal spirit. Since a full-fledged statehood status remains elusive, Delhi has been witnessing a bitter row, particularly after the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) came to power, over distribution of powers between the elected government and the Lieutenant Governor, who is seen as the eyes and ears of the Central government. The problem with the National Capital Territory of Delhi (Amendment) Bill, 2021, introduced in Parliament, is that it makes the Lt Governor an all-powerful entity whose “opinion shall be obtained” before the government takes any executive action. The amendment makes a mockery of the people’s mandate, allows the Centre to arrogate power to itself and reduces the elected state government to a powerless entity. The intent of the new legislation goes against the 2018 landmark verdict of the Supreme Court which upheld the pre-eminence of Delhi’s elected government in matters other than police, public order and land and wanted both the parties to uphold the spirit of cooperative federalism. The attempt of the new legislation to make the office of the LG synonymous with the all-powerful entity to decide all matters concerning the national capital must be seen as a perverse move towards centralisation of political power. This is also a huge step backward for Delhi’s quest for full statehood, a promise made by every political party, including the BJP, at various times during electioneering.
The implications of the new legislation go well beyond the AAP versus BJP political slugfest with a bearing on the Centre-State relations. Already, there is widespread criticism that the NDA government has been diluting the rights of the States and taking unilateral and arbitrary decisions in violation of the federal spirit. By making it mandatory for an elected government in Delhi to route all files through the L-G, the new law threatens to take away the autonomy that any elected government legitimately requires for governance. The Arvind Kejriwal government has rightly argued that the ‘democratically and constitutionally dangerous amendment’ will render the elections and elected governments meaningless. After the apex court’s ruling, the AAP government had stopped sending files to the L-G, though he was kept in the loop regarding key decisions. The Centre’s latest move infringes on this autonomy. Much of the conflict over distribution of powers stems from ambiguities of Article 239AA, which empowered Lt Governor to refer “any matter” to the President in case of differences with the Cabinet. However, the Supreme Court’s verdict on this matter must be taken as a final word.
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