The Supreme Court verdict on the sharing of powers between the office of the Lieutenant-Governor (LG) and the elected government of the National Capital Territory of Delhi (GNCTD) should put an end to fractious relationships between LGs and the Aam Aadmi Party.
The Supreme Court verdict on the sharing of powers between the office of the Lieutenant-Governor (LG) and the elected government of the National Capital Territory of Delhi (GNCTD) should put an end to fractious relationships between LGs and the Aam Aadmi Party. A five-judge Constitution bench of the Supreme Court led by Chief Justice Dipak Misra on Wednesday clarified that the “real power lies with the elected government of Delhi”. It noted that the LG is not superior to the elected chief minister and cannot act independently of the state government. The bench added that the LG is bound to act on the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers and cannot act as an “obstructionist.” He can, under Article 239AA, refer a matter to the President. The bench rightly overturned the 2016 ruling of the Delhi High Court which had accorded primacy to the LG’s office. If there is an elected government in place, it must have the freedom to legislate and implement laws and policies.
It is pointless now to apportion blame for the constant bickering between the AAP government and the two LGs; there were times when the LGs appeared to be meddling unnecessarily in the running of the government, and others when it seemed that the AAP should have handled the situations better. The appointment of Shakuntala Gamlin as the acting chief secretary of Delhi in May, 2015, was seen by Arvind Kejriwal as “unconstitutional” and he asked Gamlin not to take charge. Kejriwal is reported to have locked the office of Anindo Majumdar who had signed off on Gamlin’s appointment, and had replaced him with Rajender Kumar. In retaliation, Najeeb Jung, then LG, pronounced the decisions of the government as void.
It is true that the LG was interfering too much in the appointments of bureaucrats and stonewalling some of the government’s initiatives, but, Kejriwal, many felt, could have acted in a much more mature fashion. Kejriwal, for instance, blamed the LG for the recent alleged strike by Delhi IAS officers, even though a representative body of the officers said that there was no strike. The alleged assault on the chief secretary of Delhi by AAP party members was, on the other hand, clearly unacceptable.
Now, the Supreme Court has observed unambiguously that there must be a federal balance in the administration—as mandated by the Constitution. Justice Chandrachud did well to point out that the proviso to Article 239 AA (4) must be understood in a manner such that “any matter” does not become “every trivial matter” in practice, lest governance gets stalled. At the same time, any government must accept that there can be room for “absolutism” and “anarchy”. Given the AAP’s penchant for disruption through sit-ins and divisive rhetoric, it must learn lessons from the judgment.