New Delhi: Aimed at further curtailment of the powers of the elected government of Delhi, the Lok Sabha on Monday passed a bill ' The Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (Amendment) Bill, 2021'.
The law represents a setback to the Arvind Kejriwal-led Aad Aadmi Party (AAP) government, and will now be taken up by Rajya Sabha for passage before becoming law with the President's assent.
The bill virtually makes the Lieutenant Governor (L-G) - the Centre's representative in Delhi - stand for the government of Delhi, rather than the elected government of the city.
At the backgound the law has a Supreme Court constitution bench ruling three years ago, on the dispute between the Delhi's AAP government and the L-G of Delhi. Thus, the government justifies the bill saying that it will further define the responsibilities of the elected government and the L-G and that the bill is "in line with the constitutional scheme of governance…… as interpreted by the Supreme Court."
Delhi chief minsiter Arvind Kejriwal was quick to react to the passage of the bill calling it an 'insult' to the people of Delhi. He tweeted "Passage of GNCTD amendment Bill in Lok Sabha today is an insult to the people of Delhi. The Bill effectively takes away powers from those who were voted by people and gives powers to run Delhi to those who were defeated. BJP has cheated the people".
Kejriwal, whose government is backed by 62 of the 70 members of the Delhi assembly, has often accused the Centre of ruling Delhi by proxy, i.e. via L-G, and of thwarting many of his plans and reforms.
The new bill spells out clearly that whenever the term 'government' is used in any law made by the Legislative Assembly, it will mean the Lieutenant Governor and that the L-G's opinion has to be obtained for any action by the government.
As a matter of fact, although the Centre cites the July 4, 2018 Supreme Court order, and claims that the bill intends to give legal effect to the court's intent, the new bill on the contrary is patently aimed at nullifying the implication of the court ruling that while the Lieutenant Governor must be informed about Delhi cabinet decisions, his concurrence with them was not needed except in the case of police, public order and land.
The police, public order and land are matters in which the Centre has powers as opposed to state governments elsewhere in the country.
The 2018 bench had also ruled that the lieutenant governor is "bound by the aid and advice of the council of ministers" and that "the Lieutenant Governor has not been entrusted with any independent decision-making power". He had to "either act on the aid and advice of the council of ministers or implement the decision taken by the President on a reference being made by him".
It is pertinent to recall that Kejriwal has had to fight the Centre's stances resulting in a power tussle with the Centre during the tenure of L-G Najeeb Jung and his successor Anil Baijal - the latter also included a sustained protest at office of Baijal who had stalled a number of his decisions in 2018, the year of the Supreme Court's order too.
It is evident that the new bill seeks to expand the role of the Lieutenant Governor and to insulate the L-G from any restraining court intervention in effect forestalling such constitutional blocks before him in administrative matters.
The Bill seeks to declare that in the context of legislation passed by the Delhi Assembly, all references to the 'government' would mean the "Lieutenant Governor".
Hence the allegation of AAP and Kejriwal that the Centre has been trying to wrest the powers of an elected government.
The BJP's Manoj Tiwari dismissed such allegations, "The Bill is only aimed at removing any confusion. There is no question of grabbing power through the backdoor. AAP is trying to rule Delhi like a state instead of a Union Territory," NDTV quoted him as saying.