Opinion: Amendment to law on Delhi governance retrograde and regressive

It is high time we start discussing how our cities are to be governed. Parliament should consider framing a 4th list apart from the present Union, Concurrent and State Lists.

Little did Kirtee Bhai, who in a webinar had referred to ‘Delhi’ as a ‘way of governance model’ for cities, imagine that just a few months later Delhi would be would be transformed literally into a municipality. Kirtee Bhai, a member of the first urban commission constituted in 1986, was making a comparison between Delhi and Mumbai, terming the former with a legislature as a better model for city governance.

A few weeks back, the central government passed an amendment in the Government of National Capital Delhi Act of 1991 (GNCTD), turning Delhi city-state into an adjunct of the central government where the elected government will have to refer to the city’s lieutenant governor (LG), who is appointed by the Centre, even the most trivial matters. The Act was formally notified on April 27th.

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What do the amendments change?

It was not just the opposition parties, from the Left to Congress to regional parties who opposed these amendments in Parliament. Even former civil servants decried this move with Nearly 80 former civil servants releasing a statement against the amendments and termed the Act as subordinating the executive powers of Delhi’s elected government to that of the Centre.

The reason for these amendments was stated in the statement of objects and reasons: “to further define the responsibilities of the elected government and Lieutenant Governor(LG) in Delhi.

The Central government also said it was only carrying forward the Supreme Court’s directions as per its order dated July 4th, 2018, wherein the court delved into the subject of powers between the elected legislature and the LG. This, however, is not true. In fact, the amended Act is the reverse of the SC order.

The SC order came on an appeal by the Delhi government against the Delhi High Court order dated August 4th, 2016, that said that the LG of Delhi exercised “complete control of all matters regarding National Capital Territory (NCT)) of Delhi.”

The SC set aside this verdict while interpreting Article 239 of the GNCTD which states: “The Council of Ministers shall be collectively responsible to the Legislative Assembly”. The Supreme Court order categorically said that “The Lieutenant Governor has not been entrusted with any independent decision making power. He has to either act on the ‘aid and advice’ of the Council of Ministers or he is bound to implement the decision taken by the President on a reference made by him (the LG).”

This observation clearly delineated the powers of the elected government and LG. However, the central government came up with the amendment to reverse what the Supreme Court had highlighted. The newly notified GNCTD (Amendment) Act 2021 strikes at the very root of the principles of democratic governance and renders the democratic rights of the citizens of Delhi null and void.

There are four major effects that accrue from this amendment:

  1. Government in Delhi means the Lieutenant Governor
  2. The elected legislative assembly of the Delhi state cannot pass any rule
  3. The Lok Sabha and the central government for the moment will take the decision to even frame rules on behalf of the Delhi government. Section 33 of the Act, which relates to “conduct of its business” states that the state legislature can enact rules “which shall not be inconsistent with the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in the House of the People”. All-State legislatures have the right to frame their own rules; indeed, the rules of the Delhi Assembly are nearly identical to those of the Uttar Pradesh Assembly. But the amendment severely curtains this crucial power of the Delhi assembly.
  4. Prior sanction of the LG will be sought by the elected government for their every move, under the amended Section 44 of the GNCTD Act.

This literally cripples the elected government and makes it an adjunct of the centre.

Tussle with Central govt internsifies even as Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal holds a review meeting with city stakeholders on COVID-19. Pic: CMO Delhi/Twitter

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People’s longstanding demand nullified

Delhi has a long history of demand for complete statehood. After independence, Delhi was classified as a Part C state with an appointed chief commissioner and an elected chief minister. Brahma Prakash, a Congress leader, was the first chief minister of the Delhi Legislative Assembly. The state had control over major utilities like sanitation, water supply, etc., but not over police, public order and land.

After the State Reorganisation Act in 1956, Delhi was classified as a union territory and its council of ministers and legislative assembly was dissolved. However, the pressure kept mounting for a more people-oriented governance model. Hence, the Municipal Corporation of Delhi was established in 1957.

But the demand for complete statehood with more elected representatives would not die down. The Delhi Metropolitan Council was formed in 1966 through an act of the Parliament. The council had 56 directly elected councillors and five nominated. The post of Lieutenant Governor was also created. L K Advani, leader of the Jan Sangh, predecessor to today’s BJP, was the Chairperson of the Delhi Metropolitan Council from 1967 to 1970. Interestingly, the Jan Sangh was quite vocal in its demand for full statehood of Delhi.

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BJP’s U-turn

BJP won the first Delhi Assembly elections in 1993. Interestingly, during the tenure of this assembly (1993-1998), three chief ministers were sworn in by the BJP: Madan Lal Khurana, Sahib Singh Verma and Sushma Swaraj. The BJP remained highly vocal in its demand for full statehood at this time. In 1998, the Congress won the elections and elected Sheila Dixit as the chief minister whose 15-year stint as Delhi chief minister ended in 2013. The Congress was not very vocal about full statehood. In fact, Sheila Dixit had a working relationship with the centre even when NDA was in power.

However, the demand for statehood did not go away. In fact, the BJP-led NDA government at the centre prepared a Draft Delhi Reorganisation Bill in 1998 that proposed full statehood for Delhi minus the NDMC (New Delhi Municipal Council) area. The bill proposed that subjects of land and local government fall under the jurisdiction of the Delhi government. In 2003, L K Advani, then Deputy Prime Minister, tabled the State of Delhi Bill, 2003 and promised statehood with maximum autonomy for the elected government. The bill was reviewed by Parliament’s standing committee and Pranab Mukherjee, a member of the committee, suggested more powers for the Delhi government.

Ever since BJP lost the Delhi state elections to Arvind Kejriwal in 2013, there has been a consistent effort by the BJP ruled centre to cut down the powers of the elected government. In this new post 2014 Modi era, it is not the citizenry concept, rather it is a “ruler-ruled” concept of governance, where the people must depend on the benevolence of the ruler.

The aim has been to paralyse the functioning of the Delhi government. The Amendment does just that by redefining the word “Delhi Government” to mean the Lt Governor instead of the elected assembly.

Read more: Our city corporations need money. How can they raise it independently?

High time for a 4th List

It is high time we start discussing how are our cities are to be governed. Delhi, though, is different from other cities where a functional legislature model has been tried and succeeded to some extent. Institutions and utilities like education, health, mobility, water, electricity etc. are entirely the prerogative of the state government. This has been part of the 74th Constitutional Amendment and under the 12th Schedule too, under which 18 subjects were supposed to be transferred to elected city governments. But in reality not more than three to five subjects are universally under their ambit. And in Delhi, where the city-state government got an opportunity to function, one can find the difference it made in areas like education, electricity and water supply.

In such a scenario, it is pertinent that Parliament considers framing a 4th list apart from the present Union, Concurrent and State Lists. And this list should be for local bodies. There has to be a clear demarcation on the function and role of local bodies with a fair amount of empowerment in terms of assets etc., to ensure that the people are able to govern themselves.

The changes brought in the Delhi governance model are regressive and must be reversed.

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  1. mandeep taneja says:

    I totally agree with your views

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