The contentious issue of distribution of powers between Delhi’s elected government and the Lieutenant Governor had more or less been settled, it was felt, following the verdict of the Constitution Bench in 2018 that the L-G’s concurrence was not required on issues other than police, public order and land. With the Centre introducing the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (Amendment) Bill, 2021, in the Lok Sabha, the dispute has been revived, putting the BJP and AAP back on a collision course. The Kejriwal government’s indignation is justified. There is little to disagree with its contention that the ‘democratically and constitutionally dangerous move’ will render the elections and elected government meaningless.
The Supreme Court ruling, which came after constant AAP-Centre run-ins since 2015, had given the Delhi Government a freer hand. As a consequence, it had stopped sending files to the L-G before implementing policy decisions, though he was kept in the loop regarding administrative developments. As the party explores legal challenges to the dilution of powers that the proposed legislation is set to enforce, the Centre claims the amendments ‘further define’ the responsibilities and that ‘government’ in any law made by the Legislative Assembly shall mean the L-G, whose opinion will have to be obtained before taking any executive action.
The repercussions of the amendments go far beyond the political feud. Making it mandatory for an elected government to route all files through the L-G, in an effort to tilt the balance of power, infringes on its autonomy. It also all but ends the hope of full statehood for Delhi, a promise made by every party at one time or the other. The L-G, at present, does have the power to refer any matter over which there is a disagreement to the President, though even here the SC made it clear that the L-G ‘should not act in a mechanical manner without due application of mind so as to refer every decision of the Council of Ministers to the President’. The Centre’s move is ill-advised.