“Although it does not use the word federation, the Indian Union is based on the principles of federalism.” (Democratic Politics, Grade X, NCERT Publications)
From time immemorial, Delhi has been the seat of power in the ever turbulent and dynamic political arena of India. History is testimony to the numerous wars waged, and political conflicts birthed out of a race to usurp Delhi. Though it is not as bloody as the 1857 siege of Delhi or the 1398 Battle of Delhi, the tussle over the administrative authority in the state takes shape today as the ongoing scuffle between the Delhi Legislative Assembly and the Central Government over the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (GNCTD Amendment) Bill of 2021.
The GNCTD (Amendment) Act was moved in the Lok Sabha on the 15th of March, 2021 by the Union Minister of State for Home Affairs, Shri G Kishan Reddy. With a view to define the duties of the Lieutenant Governor (hereon referred to as the LG) and to realise the 2018 verdict of the Honourable Supreme Court, this Bill was passed by both Houses of Parliament and signed by the President of India.
The Bill very explicitly states that the term “government” referred to in any law made by the Delhi Legislative Assembly will imply the LG. While the Bill grants permission to the state legislature to establish rules regulating the procedure and conduct of business in the assembly, it additionally provides that such directives must be consistent with the Rules of Procedure of the Lok Sabha. This is something rather bizarre in the sense that usually, decrees have to be in keeping with the Constitution. By supplementing this stipulation, the Centre has very cleverly snatched the inherent authority of the Delhi Legislative Assembly.
Following the 2020 riots in Delhi, the Legislative Assembly had designated a Peace and Harmony Committee tasked with probing and investigating the genesis of these riots. When the committee, well within its rights, summoned a Facebook executive to inquire into the organisation’s failure to take action against posts that incited violence, the matter went to court. The executive argued that the Parliament and any of its committees had the sole authority to summon any official; the Delhi Legislative Assembly was trying to fit in shoes which were too big for it. How does this case have a role to play here?
This Amendment Bill prohibits the Delhi Legislative Assembly from formulating any rule to empower itself or any of its committees to consider the matters of the day-to-day administration of the NCT of Delhi or conduct any enquiry concerning administrative decisions. It further appends that all such rules made before the enactment of the Bill shall be considered void. Many critics of the Bill suppose that this stipulation has been put in place to render the Peace and Harmony Committee nugatory and turn the tables in favour of Facebook.
According to the 69th Constitutional Amendment, the Delhi Legislative Assembly had the potency to legislate on all subjects mentioned in the State and Concurrent Lists, except for three retained by the Parliament, which were: land, law and order, and police. The Act now requires the LG to reserve those Bills for the President, which ‘incidentally’ cover any matter that falls outside the purview of the assembly-namely land, law and order, and police. Affixing the term ‘incidentally’ here makes this provision obscure. It poses a situation where any and every matter may be reserved by the LG for the President’s review, on the pretext that it ‘incidentally’ touches upon the subjects of land, law and order, and police.
Furthermore, the Act adds that on matters specified by the LG, his opinion must be obtained before taking any executive action on the decision of the Delhi Cabinet. This will inevitably lead to delay and inefficiency in governance because for every trivial matter, seeking the prior consent of the LG would become unavoidable. The Act does not provide for a subsequent mechanism on how the elected representatives would function if the LG is not in favour of a particular executive action, nor does it state the time frame within which the LG is authorised to give his opinion.
Our national capital houses the country’s legislature, the seat of the Union Government, the judiciary, diplomatic missions, and other institutions of national importance. It merits smooth functioning and cannot be subject to misadventures arising from the ambiguities in the roles and responsibilities of its stakeholders. Hence, this Bill provides a clear cut division between the LG and the Council of Ministers in the exercise of their respective powers.
However, at the same time, it seems to be less of a facilitator of the LG’s duties and more of a legislative sword that amputates the executive arm of the Delhi Government. The Delhi Government, whose powers are already severely circumscribed, will be forced to make its way through numerous hurdles to govern the megacity. Perhaps the very circumstance of a Union Territory with a Legislative Assembly is oxymoronic and it is time to put an end to this facade. A possible way out could be to abolish the Legislative Assembly in Delhi and give the Centre complete administrative control of the state as had been done from 1956-1993.
It shouldn’t escape our minds that while Delhi belongs to the nation as a whole, it is also inhabited by its very own people.