GNCTD Bill-2021: The Centre and Delhi government of Arvind Kejriwal are once again face-to-face over a bill — Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (Amendment) Bill, 2021 — introduced in the Lok Sabha on Monday. While the central government says that the Bill will define the responsibilities of the elected government and the Lieutenant Governor, the Delhi government and its top leaders assert that it will curtail powers of the government of the Union Territory of Delhi.
What does the Bill say that has triggered controversy?
The Bill through amendments in various sections makes it mandatory for the government to send files to/seek the opinion of the Lieutenant Governor before taking any administrative decisions. The Bill seeks to replace the “Government” in the Act with the “Lieutenant Governor” — a central government appointee who is always seen as one working keeping Centre’s interest in mind. The Bill says, “The expression “Government” referred to in any law to be made by the Legislative Assembly shall mean the Lieutenant Governor.”
The other amendment is in Section 44. Amending section 44 of the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi Act-1991, the Bill says that “before taking any executive action in pursuance of the decision of the Council of Ministers or a Minister, to exercise powers of Government, State Government, Appropriate Government, Lieutenant Governor, Administrator or Chief Commissioner…the opinion of Lieutenant Governor in term of proviso to clause (4) of article 239AA of the Constitution shall be obtained on all such matters as may be specified, by a general or special order, by Lieutenant Governor.”
What is the Centre’s rationale behind the Bill?
The Centre says that Section 44 of the Act deals with conduct of business and there is no structural mechanism provided in the Act for effective time bound implementation of said section. Further, the Bill adds, there is no clarity as to what proposal or matters are required to be submitted to Lieutenant Governor before issuing order thereon. The Bill also talks about judgements by Supreme Court and says that the Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court, in its judgment dated the 4 July, 2018 and Division Bench of the Supreme Court, in its judgment dated the 14 February, 2019, has interpreted the provisions of article 239AA of the Constitution relating to the structure of governance in National Capital Territory of Delhi.
In order to give effect to the interpretation made by the court in its judgements, the Centre says, the Bill seeks “to clarify the expression “Government”, which in the context of legislations to be passed by the Legislative Assembly of Delhi, shall mean the Lieutenant Governor of the National Capital Territory of Delhi, consistent with the status of Delhi as a Union territory to address the ambiguities in the interpretation of the legislative provisions”.
The Bill further seeks to ensure that the L-G is necessarily granted an opportunity to exercise the power entrusted to him under proviso to clause (4) of article 239AA of the Constitution, in select category of cases and also to make rules in matters which incidentally encroach upon matters falling outside the preview of the Legislative Assembly. It also seeks to provide for rules made by the Legislative Assembly of Delhi to be consistent with the rules of the House of the People.
Why is the Delhi government protesting?
Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal has listed two main objections. In a tweet, Arvind Kejriwal says that the Bill states ‘Government’ will mean ‘Lieutenant Governor’ and now all files will have to be sent to the L-G. “The (GNCTD) Bill says: 1. For Delhi, “Govt” will mean LG – Then what will the elected govt do? 2. All files will go to LG – This is against 4.7.18 Constitution Bench judgement which said that files will not be sent to LG, the elected govt will take all decisions and send a copy of decision to LG,” the chief minister writes. Targeting the Centre and the BJP, Kejriwal further says that after being rejected by people of Delhi (8 seats in Assembly, 0 in MCD bypolls), the BJP seeks to drastically curtail powers of the elected government through a Bill in Lok Sabha. “Bill is contrary to Constitution Bench judgement. We strongly condemn BJP’s unconstitutional n anti-democracy move,” he writes on Twitter.
What has been the power tussle between the Delhi Govt and L-G?
Delhi is not a full state where certain administrative decisions need to be taken in consultation/approval with the L-G. Here, the law and order situation falls under the ambit of the Union Home Ministry. Key areas where L-G and elected differed heavily were transfer and postings of bureaucrats, and reporting of the head of the anti-corruption bureau under the vigilance department of the Delhi government. The ACB matter was settled by the Supreme Court which said that the Centre alone will control ACB and can pass the orders under the Commission of Inquiry Act. In this case, the Delhi government had argued that the ACB officers should report to the government as the bureau was under the state’s vigilance department. The Delhi government also asserted that transfer and posting in the state were to be done by the elected government only. “The L-G does not control the service and he can not control or order their transfer or postings,” it had said.
What did the Supreme Court rule in the Delhi Govt vs L-G case?
The Supreme Court ruled that the L-G has not been entrusted with any independent decision-making power in the Union Territory of Delhi. So, he has to act on the “aid and advice” of the Council of Ministers. “The meaning of ‘aid and advice’ employed in Article 239AA (4) has to be construed to mean that the L-G of the NCT of Delhi is bound by the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers, and this position holds true so long as the L-G does not exercise power under the proviso to clause (4) of Article 239 AA. The L-G 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 is bound to implement the decision taken by the President on a reference made by him,” it said. The SC, however, said that by no stretch of imagination, Delhi can be accorded the status of a State under the present constitutional scheme. The court said the L-G was not like a Governor of a state but an administrator, in a limited sense, working with the designation of L-G. It further observed that the Constitution was “constructive” and that “there is no room for absolutism. There is no space for anarchy.”