Who is the boss of Delhi – the democratically elected chief minister or the L-G, who is seen as the representative of the Centre? For over three years since coming to power, the Delhi government led by Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has been on a war path against Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led Centre on this matter. Though on record, the battle was between Delhi government and the Lieutenant Governor (L-G), the ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) always publicized that their ire was basically directed against Modi and Centre.
It came as no surprise, hence, when the Supreme Court on Wednesday reversed a Delhi High Court judgment (holding L-G as the administrative head of the national capital), AAP supporters and leaders started attacking Modi on Twitter. AAP MLA and party spokesperson Saurabh Bhardwaj tweeted, “IMPORTANT – Can Modi ji revoke 3 years 5 months of chaos in Delhi? Will Delhi people forgive BJP for ruining 3 years 5 months ?” “A big victory for the people of Delhi…a big victory for democracy…,” tweeted Kejriwal.
Can the SC judgement be interpreted as a victory of Kejriwal and defeat of Modi, even if we consider for a moment that the LG was only shadow boxing for the Prime Minister since 2015? Was AAP and Kejriwal’s celebrations on SC judgement, even when all details were not out, justified?
IMPORTANT – Can Modi ji revoke 3 years 5 months of chaos in Delhi?
Will Delhi people forgive BJP for ruining 3 years 5 months ? pic.twitter.com/eJwHa7ktd2
— Saurabh Bharadwaj (@Saurabh_MLAgk) July 4, 2018
The Delhi High Court, in its August 4, 2016 verdict, had ruled that LG is the administrative head of National Capital Territory. It had termed Kejriwal government’s contention that the LG is bound to act on the advice of Council of Ministers was “without substance”. The HC verdict had effectively dis-empowered the Delhi government, even when it is accountable to people.
Challenging the Delhi HC verdict in the apex court earlier, AAP government had argued that the Delhi LG had been taking many executive decisions and a “harmonious interpretation” of Article 239AA of the Constitution was needed. The article deals with power and status of Delhi.
A big victory for the people of Delhi…a big victory for democracy…
— Arvind Kejriwal (@ArvindKejriwal) July 4, 2018
The final verdict delivered by the apex court bench headed by CJI Dipak Misra has held that LG is bound to act on the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers. It further said that the LG cannot act as an obstructionist. The top court held that with the exception of three issues – land, law and order, police – the Delhi government has the power to legislate and govern on other issues. It further advised the LG to work harmoniously with the Council of Ministers there should be an attempt to settle difference of opinion with discussions.
The observations of the court, which though appear to be curtailing the powers of the L-G, only underline his role and powers as enshrined in the Constitution. Moreover, the claim that the Supreme Court order is a big victory for the AAP can be good for optics. The outcome will be decided when individual cases where the AAP has been in a turf war with the LG come up for hearing before a separate bench that will be set up as per the orders of the court.
What the SC today said is already provided for by Article 239 (AA) of the Constitution.
The Article 239 (AAA) grants Special Status to Delhi among all Union Territories, providing it a Legislative Assembly and a Council of Ministers to deal with matters of concern to the common man. As per the article, the central government has the power over police, public order and land. The Delhi government can make laws on all matters of State List or Concurrent List, as per provisions of the Constitutions. Moreover, the Delhi government has to aid and advise the LG in the exercise of his functions on matters on which the Legislative assembly has the power to frame laws.
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, 4 yrs ago-will start again
LG and CM, stop this blame-game and develop Delhi as we successfully did for 15yrs!
— Ajay Maken (@ajaymaken) July 4, 2018
What about AAP’s main plank?
In the last three years, Kejriwal government has been at odds with the Centre for full statehood of Delhi, which is now a political battle it would likely exploit in 2019 Lok Sabha elections. However, both Delhi High Court and the Supreme Court have so far rejected to accept the contention that Delhi should have powers like other states.
The SC only reiterated today what the LG should function as per the already existing law. On other issues of contention between Delhi government and LG, the top court didn’t intervene. It did say the LG is not an independent authority to take independent decisions, just like all governors of the state. Further, the top court said all routine matters do not require consonance of the LG and the latter should not act in a mechanical manner and stall decisions of council of ministers.
The finer points of the judgement make it apparent that the Kejriwal government has not much to celebrate as cases over several decisions of Delhi government are still pending.
The SC said LG should work “harmoniously” with Delhi government and differences should be sorted out through discussions. However, the onus of establishing this harmony will equally be on Kejriwal and his ministers. Considering, the fact that Kejriwal recently put Delhi government on a dharna inside the LG office for over a week, harmony is certainly not near. Secondly, with the apparent disgust of Kejriwal and his party leaders against Modi, it will not be easy for AAP members to go, build that harmony. Who is the winner then? Make a logical guess.