President Ram Nath Kovind on Sunday gave his assent to the controversial Bill, which gives overreaching powers to Delhi’s lieutenant governor by effectively wresting control away from the city’s elected government, PTI reported.
The central government announced the presidential assent to the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi Amendment Bill, 2021 through a gazette notification.
The legislation was cleared in both Houses of Parliament amid strong protests from the Opposition, which said the proposed reforms were against the federal structure of India’s democracy.
In the Rajya Sabha, the Bill was passed on March 25 after the members voted through division slips, with 83 voting in favour and 45 against the motion. MPs opposing the Bill, including Congress’ Mallikarjun Kharge, walked out of the house right after voting. Similar protests erupted in the Lok Sabha during the passage of the legislation on March 22.
The Bill is seen as a huge setback to Arvind Kejriwal’s government, which has been at loggerheads with the lieutenant governor’s office since it came to power for the first time in 2013. When the Bill was passed by Parliament, the Delhi chief minister called it a “sad day for Indian democracy”.
The Centre maintains that the legislation will not curtail the power of Delhi’s elected government, but would lead to transparency and clarity in governance and would enhance public accountability. During debates in Parliament, Union Minister G Kishan Reddy had said the amendments were brought to remove ambiguities in the existing Act and appealed to everyone not to call it a “political move”.
However, critics say 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.
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.