On July 4, the Supreme Court ruled that Delhi’s lieutenant governor is bound by the “aid and advice” of the state’s council of ministers in all matters under its jurisdiction – that is, everything except land, police and public order. The judgement, delivered by a Constitution bench, was widely seen as a victory for the Aam Aadmi Party, which had been accusing the Centre of stalling the work of the party’s Delhi government through the lieutenant governor’s office.
The court said the lieutenant governor cannot exercise his power to refer the state government’s decisions to the President in a mechanical manner but did not clarify which matters could be referred. In effect, the lieutenant governor’s power to make references to the President remains discretionary. He can still stall the government’s decisions, prolonging the confrontation and provoking more litigation.
This is precisely what is happening. The lieutenant governor, backed by the Union home ministry, has refused to hand over to the government control of the services department, which deals with posting and transfer of bureaucrats. To make matters worse, the lieutenant governor transferred three senior bureaucrats just days after the judgement.
Last Wednesday, Arvind Kejriwal met Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh to discuss the impasse. “I read the relevant parts of the court’s order at today’s meeting,” the Delhi chief minister told the media. “It clearly mentions that all power concerning governance in the city is with the Delhi government, except for land, police and public order, which come under the jurisdiction of the LG. This means the services department comes under the Delhi government. Despite so much of clarity, why are LG and the Centre selectively acting on the Supreme Court’s order, misinterpreting that according to their own convenience?”
Kejriwal said Singh agreed to look into the matter before a divisional bench of the Supreme Court starts hearing it next week.
An unending impasse
Since taking power with a crushing majority in February 2015, the Aam Aadmi Party has been locked in a running tussle for control over Delhi’s administrative machinery with the lieutenant governor, first Najeeb Jung and now Anil Baijal.
The impasse deepened early this year when Delhi’s chief secretary alleged that he was assaulted by two Aam Aadmi Party legislators during a meeting at Kejriwal’s residence. Associations of Indian Administrative Service officers from across the country condemned the alleged assault and sought an apology from Kejriwal. In Delhi, the bureaucrats essentially struck work by refusing to meet with any minister, communicating only in writing. They also demanded an unconditional apology from the chief minister.
They could do so because they did not run the risk of facing disciplinary action from the Kejriwal government. The constitutional scheme under which Delhi is governed allows only the Centre to take action, through the lieutenant governor, against the state’s bureaucrats. Given that the lieutenant governor disputes the Aam Aadmi Party’s interpretation of the July 4 ruling as it applies to the services, this state of affairs will persist until the division bench decides the matter.
To bring the striking bureaucrats to heel, Kejriwal and three of his ministers sat in protest at the lieutenant governor’s official residence for nine days in June, forcing the bureaucrats to end their boycott of meetings with ministers. “But the bureaucrats agreed to do so on one condition,” said a senior government official who asked not to be identified. “They will not attend meetings at any minister’s residence unless the chief minister assures them of security. The also demanded a meeting between the bureaucrats and the chief minister.”
This apparent resolution of the impasse too became a sticking point. Kejriwal argued that since the police is controlled by the lieutenant governor, he should call a meeting with the bureaucrats and assure them of security. The lieutenant governor, in turn, maintained that the chief minister should be responsible for officials working with his government.
Then came the Supreme Court’s judgement and a new blame game began.
New blame game
Kejriwal accused the lieutenant governor of “selectively following” the July 4 ruling after he refused to yield control over the services. Officials in Baijal’s office, however, cited the Delhi High Court’s order of August 2016 declaring the lieutenant governor the de facto authority in Delhi to argue that the services department remains with him until the Supreme Court explicitly states otherwise.
Last Tuesday, the Aam Aadmi Party petitioned the Supreme Court for a fast-track hearing to clarify the contentious points of the July 4 verdict. The party’s counsel Rahul Mehra later told the media that he had received “indications” from the court that “the matters shall be listed before the appropriate bench sometime next week”.
The “matters”, senior government officials explained, primarily include a bunch of writ petitions related to the Delhi government’s schemes such as the Mohalla Clinic which the Aam Aadmi Party has accused the Centre of trying to block and control over the services department.
Just like the government, the bureaucrats are waiting for the Supreme Court to settle the matter before formulating their future course of action, a senior official said. “But as far as the matter of the security of bureaucrats is concerned,” he added, “that still remains unsettled.”