The Big Story: Administrative chaos
On Monday night, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal along with several of his cabinet colleagues staged a sit-in protest in the waiting room of Raj Niwas, demanding that the lieutenant governor clear key projects awaiting his sanction and move to end what the Aam Aadmi Party alleged is a “strike” by Indian Administrative Service officers in the Capital that has continued for four months.
Earlier in the day, the Aam Aadmi Party relaunched its campaign for statehood for Delhi, passing a resolution to this effect in the Assembly. Dramatically, Kejriwal declared that if the Bharatiya Janata Party granted statehood to Delhi, he would campaign for Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the party in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
The is no denying that since the Aam Aadmi Party came to power in 2015 with a stunning majority, its government has been confronted with administrative roadblocks posed by the office of the lieutenant governor, who is the representative of the Centre and controls key subjects like land and police. In 2016, the Aam Aadmi Party government made a legal challenge
to the powers of the lieutenant governor in the Supreme Court. A constitution bench is likely to deliver its verdict in the matter after the court reopens on July 2.
However, the question of granting statehood to Delhi is not as simple as the Aam Aadmi Party makes it to be. Its own conception of what the Delhi state should be has challenges. For instance, in 2016, when it put out a draft law on statehood, the Aam Aadmi Party allowed the New Delhi municipal council area to remain in the control of Parliament, even though it wanted control of land in others areas of the city. This signaled a willingness to give up a large amount of tax revenue in exchange for political control. Questions were raised about whether such an arrangement would be viable and generate enough money to sustain the city.
While Kejriwal has said that Delhi generates Rs 1.3 lakh crore as tax revenue but gains only Rs 350 crore in return, he hides the fact that Delhi is actually a big beneficiary of the Centre’s tax revenue allocation model. Compared to major states, Delhi produces hardly anything. It even depends on other states for water and power. One reason Delhi does not face inter-state problems like other states do is because of the recognition of its importance as the national capital territory. If Delhi is granted statehood, its government will no longer be treated preferentially and will have to tackle neighbouring states as equals. For example, 30% of the Union Urban Development Ministry’s budget is allocated for infrastructure in Delhi alone, a luxury that no other state enjoys. Around the world, efficient capital cities remain federal units under the central governments. Some like Washington DC have even less autonomy than Delhi does.
However, it is also true that the demand for statehood has become more urgent due to the attitude of the Centre and the lieutenant governor. Both have failed to recognise Delhi’s unique nature and have stalled projects, such as a scheme to deliver rations at residents’ doorsteps. The functioning of the lieutenant governors has for all practical reasons undermined the powers of the Assembly and the Delhi government elected by the people.
More problematic is the manner in which Kejriwal is trying to make this the single-most important issue in Delhi, even offering support to the BJP if the Centre accepts the statehood demand. While greater autonomy is indeed the ideal situation, such profound changes to the system of governance need to be debated thoroughly and should not be the product of political grandstanding.
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