The High Court of Delhi pronounced its Judgment on the 4th of August, 2016 in the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi Vs Union Of India, that the Lieutenant Governor (LG)was in fact the executive head of Delhi.
That position remains, and while the Delhi Government later moved the Supreme Court against the Judgment, the operation of order of the High Court was not stayed. The Supreme Court has reserved its Judgment in this case.
Simply put, unless the Supreme Court rules otherwise, it is the LG who is Delhi’s executive head and governs it for the President of India.
The Governance model devised for Delhi was a strategy to make a union territory appear as if it were being administered via a local government elected by the people of Delhi and not the Central Government – elected by all of India. It was an attempt to accommodate into a formal legislative structure the large number of local political aspirants who were forever growing in numbers. Similar exercises had been tried in earlier decades. Handing over Delhi under the executive charge of local political representatives made the Union Government very uncomfortable. Indeed the Parliament of India agreed.
The political representatives in the Municipal Corporations as well as in the Legislative Assembly, Mayor and Chief Minister have no real power. The municipal commissioners – who are civil servants – and not the corporators –who are elected- run the Municipal Corporations. They indulge the mayors but let there be no illusion that it is the commissioners who are in charge.
It is only partly true, that the Delhi model of governance collapses when the political party at the state and the centre are at loggerheads. Clash of personalities and overlapping turfs creates festering conflicts even if the party at the centre and state are the same. Sheila Dikshit faced this constantly but was adept at keeping it under wraps knowing fully well that exposing it would only show her as powerless against the LG and the centre.
When the Congress was in power at the Centre and in Delhi, in 2006 Sheila Dikshit locked horns with the then LG, BL Joshi, over several issues such as changing building laws in unauthorised colonies & over the issue of nominating legislators for foreign trips. There was a similar instance of confrontation with LG, Tejinder Khanna, including one over the construction and length of the Rao Tula Ram flyover. Another example was in 2011, when Tejinder Khanna confronted the Delhi government’s decision on increasing circle rates for properties. However, in this case, the Union Home Ministry sided with Dikshit. Matters were resolved quietly.
But a camaraderie based model suggesting friendship (or worse cronyism) as a process of governing is disingenuous. Suggesting that an elected government should tip-toe around civil servants and officers to get them to work is silly. Statecraft is important but minus executive/coercive power the Chief Minister is a glorified Non-Government Organisation, an NGO. This is not to absolve Arvind Kejriwal but to only state that it is the centre that is in power in Delhi and should therefore be held accountable for Delhi’s problems. The Chief Minister is actually irrelevant in the scheme of Delhi’s governance.
Since this is not made explicit, there continues to be total confusion in the public on who governs Delhi. For the interested, it is important to go into some detail so bear with me:
In 1998 a Central Government notification said that “The Lieutenant Governor, shall in matters connected with public order, police and services exercise the power and discharge the functions of the Centre, to the extent delegated from time to time to him by the President, in consultation with the Chief Minister, except in cases where, for reasons to be recorded in writing he does not consider it expedient to do so,”.
This did provide the CM with a degree of say in the state’s affairs, but overturning this, the Central Government in a May 21 gazette notification of 2015 said:
‘And whereas it is well established that where there is no legislative power, there is no executive power since executive power is co-extensive with legislative power’. It then proceeds to expand the powers of the LG to provide that in relation to matters connected with ‘Public Order’, ‘Police’, ‘Land’ and ‘Services’ the LG will exercise the powers and discharge the functions of the Central Government, to the extent delegated to him from time to time by the President, provided he may, in his discretion, obtain the views of the Chief Minister of the National Capital Territory of Delhi in regard to the matter of ‘Services’ wherever he deems it appropriate. Services here refers to the civil services (DANIC, DANIPS).
Which, in simple language, leaves it to the LG’s discretion “to obtain the views” of the CM in regard to the matter of “services” wherever he considered it to be appropriate. This notification makes LG the total boss as far as the reserved subjects of public order, police and services are concerned. No consultation is required with the CM.
But if the Chief Minister of a State has absolutely no powers over the officers or the police then he simply cannot govern. Period.
This brings us to the point that it is then the Central Government and the LG that is responsible for the state of Delhi, its waste problem, its choked roads, its filthy river and its foul air.
The Chief Minister of Delhi is only a ‘National Narrative Maker’ for or against the political party that forms the government at the centre. With a national election coming up, the National Narrative Maker’s role will gain in significance.
With the Supreme Court having reserved its Judgement, as things stand now, the elected representatives in Delhi have the limited role of keeping people occupied in political theatre, build public opinion for or against issues, have political personalities retain a pie of Delhi’s GDP (if they like to) but in real terms it is the LG (and, therefore, the Central Government) who governs the National Capital Territory of Delhi.
Thankfully there is a substantial private as well as civil society involvement in Delhi’s functioning. There are large private players in power distribution, water billing and accounting, road construction, retail, waste management, healthcare and that enables the Delhi that we live in to keep operating. The Police are independent from the state Govt and Delhi’s RWAs, citizens’ groups and residents contribute by themselves and compensate for absent security and civic amenities. Delhi’s political crisis is never big enough or precipitous enough to bring the city to a halt.
Asking for a total return to UT or grant of full statehood both seem impossible since that would require a constitutional amendment by the Parliament. That seems unlikely bordering on the impossible. Until such time as the Hon’ble Supreme Court announces its decision, your ‘go to’ man is the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi. Call him up when you have a problem.