The Centre on Monday introduced a Bill in the Lok Sabha where it proposed that “government” in the national Capital means the lieutenant governor of Delhi, reported The Hindu. The proposed legislation also gives discretionary powers to the lieutenant governor even in matters where the Legislative Assembly of Delhi is empowered to make laws.

The National Capital Territory of Delhi (Amendment) Bill, 2021, seeks to ensure that the lieutenant governor is “necessarily granted an opportunity” to give opinions before any decision taken by the Delhi Cabinet is implemented.

The Bill seeks to make these changes by amending the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi Act, 1991. This Act states that the Legislative Assembly of Delhi has the power to make laws in all matters except public order, police and land. The Ministry of Home Affairs wants to amend sections 21, 24, 33 and 44 of the 1991 Act, reported The Indian Express.

Section 24 deals with assent to Bills passed by the Legislative Assembly. In this, the amendment seeks to add that the lieutenant governor will not give his assent and pass to the president for consideration of any Bill falling outside the purview of the powers conferred to the Legislative Assembly.

Section 33 of the Act empowers the Delhi Assembly to make rules to conduct its business. The Bill seeks to insert a clause that states the rules of conduct of the Legislative Assembly should not be inconsistent with the rules of procedure and conduct of business of the House of People, the Lok Sabha. The amendment adds that any such rule made before the 2021 Act is passed shall be void.

Section 44 of the 1991 Act says that “all executive action of the lieutenant governor whether taken on the advice of his ministers or otherwise shall be expressed to be taken in the name of the lieutenant governor”. The amendment seeks to add that the opinion of the lieutenant governor has to be sought before any executive action is taken by the council of ministers.

The home ministry cited Article 239AA of the Constitution to seek the amendment. The article that deals with the structure of governance of Delhi, states that the council of ministers will “aid and advise” the lieutenant governor in matters where the Legislative Assembly has the power to make laws except where the LG can exercise discretion.

Section 21 of the Act is on “restrictions on laws passed by Legislative Assembly with respect to certain matters”. The Bill seeks to add a subsection in this to clarify that the expression “government” referred to in any law by the Delhi Legislative Assembly will mean the lieutenant governor.

The home ministry argued for the amendment based on a Supreme Court 2019 verdict, claiming that it was being done to give effect to the interpretation made by it.

Earlier, in its 2018 verdict, a five-judge bench had held that the concurrence of lieutenant governor was not needed on matters other than the police, public order and land. It had, however, added that decisions of the council of ministers will have to be communicated to the lieutenant governor.

Following the verdict, the Delhi government had stopped sending files of its executive decisions to the lieutenant governor before implementing them. It was informing the lieutenant governor of all the administrative development but not before implementing them.

Now, if the Bill is passed, the elected government will have to seek the lieutenant governor’s advice before making any Cabinet decision.

‘Why does the Centre pretend to be democratic?’: Manish Sisodia

The Aam Aadmi Party criticised the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Centre for introducing the Bill. Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia said that if the proposed amendments are passed, the elected government in the national Capital will become meaningless.

“It [the Bill] says LG [lieutenant governor] is the government and all decisions and files have to be routed through him,” Sisodia said on Monday. “This Bill goes against what the Supreme Court Constitution Bench order had stated. If this is what the Centre wants to do, what is the point of holding elections and there being an elected government in the state? Why does the Centre pretend to be democratic?”

He said that if the Bill is passed, it will have “dangerous” consequences on India’s federal structure, reported the Hindustan Times. “By bringing this bill in Parliament, the central government has made it clear that it wants to rule Delhi through a back door channel by making the LG ever more powerful,” the deputy chief minister added.

Sisodia read parts from the Indian Constitution and the July 2018 Supreme Court verdict to justify the Delhi government’s stand that the proposed amendments are unconstitutional.

He also alleged that the Bill was a ploy by the Centre to incapacitate the Delhi government, which was working for the people. “They [the Bharatiya Janata Party] lost elections in Delhi and could not buy MLAs like they do in other states, so they are using this tactic in Delhi,” he alleged.

The deputy chief minister said the Delhi government will look into the matter and explore options after consulting legal experts, PTI reported.

Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said the Bill was a way to reduce the powers of Delhi government. “After being rejected by people of Delhi [8 seats in Assembly, 0 in MCD bypolls], BJP seeks to drastically curtail powers of elected government through a Bill in LS today [Monday],” he tweeted. “Bill is contrary to Constitution Bench judgement. We strongly condemn BJP’s unconstitutional and anti-democracy move.”