In a setback for the Aam Aadmi Party government in Delhi, the Lok Sabha on Monday passed a new Bill, backed by the Narendra Modi government, which gives overreaching powers to the lieutenant governor, NDTV reported.
The National Capital Territory of Delhi Amendment Bill, 2021, was passed in the Lower House during the Budget Session of Parliament. The Centre said the Bill was introduced to end ambiguity in running the affairs of the Capital, and appealed to everyone not to term it a “political move”, according to The Indian Express.
The proposed law would significantly expand the powers of the Centre-appointed Lieutenant Governor of Delhi, at the cost of the elected Assembly. Among other things, the Bill proposes that the term “government” in the law that underpins the functioning of Delhi refers to the lieutenant governor and not the elected leadership.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal called the passage of the Bill an “insult” to the people of the national Capital. “The Bill effectively takes away powers from those who were voted by people and gives powers to run Delhi to those who were defeated,” he tweeted. “BJP has cheated the people.”
During the discussions in the House on Monday, Congress leader Manish Tewari said the Bill was “unconstitutional” as it took away certain rights of the city government, which were given under a constitutional amendment, reported PTI. Tewari was of the view that the legislation seeks to prevent the city government from implementing decisions taken by the legislative Assembly. “How can you divorce a decision from its implementation,” he asked.
Bharatiya Janata Party leader Meenakshi Lekhi, who represents the New Delhi seat in Lok Sabha, said the Bill seeks to rectify the alleged mismanagement of Delhi at the hands of the Congress and the ruling Aam Aadmi Party. She maintained that the Constitution was not federal but quasi-federal in nature, where the Centre’s say cannot be ignored.
At the core of the matter is Article 239AA of the Indian Constitution, which gives Delhi the special character of a Union Territory, with a Legislative Assembly that has a lieutenant governor as its administrative head.
Delhi has an elected Assembly, which has been dominated by the Aam Aadmi Party for six years now. The party managed to get consecutive landslide victories in 2015 and 2020, with the Bharatiya Janata Party in a distant second place both times.
This has meant, however, that AAP’s tenure since 2015 has been marked by constant tussles between the government and the Centre, primarily through the office of the lieutenant governor. In addition to that, the tensions have continued as the Centre controls land, public order and the Delhi Police.
National Capital Territory of Delhi Amendment Bill
The Aam Aadmi Party says that the new bill is the Centre’s latest effort to take power away from Delhi’s elected leadership.
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.
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.