In a unanimous and all-over-news verdict, the Supreme Court last week favourably defined the powers of the Delhi government led by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), giving it greater autonomy and limiting the scope of interference by the Lieutenant Governor (LG). The verdict declared that the LG is “bound by the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers of the Government of Delhi” in all matters except three: land, police and public order.
While Delhi does not yet have full statehood, the elected government now has more room to make and implement policies that had since hit a roadblock in the power struggle between the government and the office of the Lieutenant Governor over the course of its term.
Almost as if to underline that point, within a couple of days of the ruling, the contentious plan of doorstep delivery of PDS supplies was cleared by Arvind Kejriwal’s government, once the chief minister had, in his own words, “overruled all objections to the proposal.” The food department has been reportedly instructed to start implementation of the programme immediately.
Incidentally, the Delhi government had mooted the idea of doorstep delivery of ration (wheat, rice and sugar) under the Targeted Public Distribution Scheme to all beneficiaries, with the stated aim of reducing corruption in the process and plugging leakages.The cabinet had passed an order approving the same on March 6th.
The plan was also in keeping with the guidelines of the Ministry of Consumer Affairs Government of India that encourages home delivery of rations to persons unable to procure them in person due to disability, old age and other reasons. Close to 72 lakh PDS beneficiaries would be in the fold of the scheme.
However, the Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal rejected the proposal sent to him for approval on March 21st, on the grounds that such a scheme would only replace one method of human intervention for another and urged the government to adopt Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT), a move rejected by the state government.
The Supreme Court’s latest ruling has now given the AAP government a shot in the arm and the programme is back on track. The move has, however, come under criticism in the past from campaigners for food security on the ground that it is likely to increase corruption, burden the state and also reduce transparency.
The buzz, now, is naturally around all those bones of contention between the government and the office of the LG— the plans that have been in abeyance, but which if implemented could have several implications for Delhi and its people. Here’s a look at some of these schemes and where they stand at present:
Installation of CCTV cameras in key locations was one of the key poll promises of the incumbent state government. The government had come under some criticism for its slow pace of the project and escalating costs that saw the overlay increase from Rs 130 crores when the idea was conceived in 2015 to close to Rs 571 crores in 2018.
The cabinet approved of funds for the installation of close to 1.4 lakh CCTV cameras in Delhi in May. However, the Lieutenant Governor intervened to set up a high-level committee to put in place a framework for monitoring CCTV cameras and to lay down a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for the same. The government and the office of the Lieutenant Governor were engaged in a war of words, with the former accusing the latter of forming the committee only to deliberately delay the approval for the installation of the CCTV cameras.
The LG’s office responded to these allegations with a note detailing the need for such a panel and clarifying that the proposal had not come to his notice but lay with the government. A day after the verdict, the panel constituted by the Governor tabled a recommendation that the Delhi Police, and not the state government, be made the custodian of the CCTV cameras in the NCR, including those installed by the state government.
The panel has also addressed concerns of privacy, with close to 2.5 lakh cameras in the region, and all owners and handlers reporting to DCP Licensing. The recommendations address concerns that citizens have raised on social media platforms at various times regarding the proliferation of CCTV and the need to balance concerns of privacy and safety.
1.4 lac cctv to be installed in delhi. Personally i dont like getting watched 24 hours. It should be installed only at sensitive places otherwise its the indirect violation of Right to Privacy.
— Ashish (@agvg10) February 9, 2018
Midday meals by Akshaya Patra
In 2017, the AAP government proposed to join hands with the NGO Akshaya Patra for the implementation of mid-day meals in schools. The partnership was to serve close to 40,000 students across government schools in Delhi. The idea was floated after several instances of subpar quality food being served to school-going children in Delhi were reported.
Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia claimed that the visit to Akshaya Patra-run kitchens in Karnataka, Chhattisgarh and Gujarat had left a favourable impression. Former LG Najeeb Jung had rejected the proposal as the NGO required land to set up the kitchen. The current LG has also stalled any progress on the scheme while initially showing positive signs. It remains to be seen if the state government will swing into action on this issue after the court ruling as the midday meal scheme has once again come under the scanner in July.
Mohalla clinics, the AAP version of primary healthcare centres that offer essential health services such as basic medicines, diagnostics and consultation free of cost, has been a widely hailed intervention. The clinics serve to reduce the financial burden on low-income households.
The government’s plans to set up 1000 mohalla clinics reportedly ran into a hurdle as the proposal was stalled for over a year with the office of the LG not considering the proposal submitted. The proposal was finally approved, but with some riders on grounds of favouritism and complaints from the general public, which the government slammed as it effectively scuttled the plan.
Now that the apex court ruling gives the elected government the teeth to implement such projects with or without the concurrence of the LG, many eyes are closely tracking developments to see if more mohalla clinics will soon see the light of the day.
The recent furore over the proposal to cut 14,000 trees for the redevelopment of seven South Delhi colonies saw the government and LG lock horns over who takes the blame for its approval. While the state government attempted to absolve blame by deeming the LG as the competent authority, the office of the LG states that the proposal was endorsed by the state’s Environment minister. Protests by the people finally saw the High Court intervene to put the plan on hold.
Once again, shortly after the court verdict on the power struggle came in, a tweet by AAP minister Saurabh Bhardwaj indicated that the LG had revoked the decision to revoke tree cutting permissions for central government’s project.
BREAKING – As Supreme Court has declared that decisions of Ministers of Elected Govt will be binding on LG.
The decision to revoke tree cutting permissions for Central Govt project has been signed by LG today.
Such a relief when Elected Govt works as per will of the people.
— Saurabh Bharadwaj (@Saurabh_MLAgk) July 6, 2018
Despite the verdict and above claims, environmentalist Vimlendu Jha feels that the battle is yet to be won and that the larger battle over environmental protection is still ongoing.
“Delhi’s citizens and the environment have suffered over the lack of accountability. We have seen a vacuum in environmental governance as a normal citizen does not know who the boss is. If the air is toxic, the river is polluted or trees are being felled, we do not know whom to approach to remedy this. Ideally, we’d want all our institutions to have public good in mind. The people must have clarity as to who is accountable. These issues should have been addressed much earlier.”
A cautious citizenry
While much is being written about and read into the court’s demarcation of turf between the Delhi government and the LG’s office, the average Delhiite is far from clear about what change this verdict could bring about. Amrita Singh, a resident of Delhi voices the thoughts of many when she says, “There’s very little clarity on governance issues and separation of powers. Citizens spend time trying to figure out accountability. There are too many agencies involved that affect our day to day life. There has been a flare up of these issues only in the recent past, as before that, Delhi and the Centre were governed by the same party. Now that is not the case. There’s confusion regarding administrative structures and hierarchy for the common man. How this particular verdict will play out with regard to such issues is still unclear.”