On Monday, February 15, 2021, the Central Government introduced a bill in the Lok Sabha, which aims to give additional powers to the centre-appointed Lieutenant Governor of Delhi over the city-state’s daily affairs. The National Capital Territory of Delhi (Amendment) Bill, 2021 aims to amend four sections of the existing Act to give the Lieutenant Governor overreaching powers. The bill says that the Government in Delhi will be the Lieutenant Governor and not the Delhi Legislative Assembly.
Before getting into the bill’s details, let’s look at how Union Territories (UTs), particularly the National Capital Territory of Delhi, are governed in India.
How Union Territories (UTs) Are Governed
The concept of Union Territories (UTs) was not added in the Indian Constitution until the Constitution (Seventh Amendment) Act of 1956. Currently, India has eight Union Territories. The central Government administers the UTs, and unlike states, do not have their governments. The Central Government appoints a Lieutenant General (LG), who is the administrator of the Union Territory and a representative of the President of India, who is the Chief Administrator of the UT according to Article 239.
There are two types of Union Territories- Union Territory With Legislature and Union Territory Without Legislature. Out of the eight, three UTs have their legislature. These are Delhi, Puducherry and Jammu & Kashmir. These UTs have their legislative assemblies and their council of ministers.
According to the Government of National Capital Territory Delhi Act (1991), the state government of Delhi has the power to make laws on all subjects apart from Public Order, Police and Land. This Act of 1991 outlines the powers of the legislative assembly of Delhi, the Lieutenant General’s discretionary powers, and the Chief Minister’s duties concerning the need to provide the LG with information.
Why The New Bill?
The concerns about how little powers the elected Government in Delhi have been raised by all major political parties since the 90s. There have also been demands about full statehood for Delhi. The power tussle between the Central and State governments in Delhi has been continuing fiercely since the first term of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) Government in Delhi. The state government had frequent run-ins with the Lieutenant Governor and accused the LG of being the Centre’s agent and blocking the State Government’s development attempt. The State Government had also been accused of keeping the LG in the dark about executive decisions.
A Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court took up this matter in 2018. In July 2018, the five-judge bench gave a verdict that said the LG’s concurrence was not required on matters except Public Order, Police and Land over which the central Government has jurisdiction. It stated that the decision of the council of ministers would have to be communicated to the LG. It argued that requiring the prior concurrence of the LG would negate the ideals of representative governance and democracy. The AAP government claimed this to be a victory.
The Central Government says that the amendment is based on a 2019 Supreme Court Verdict and aims to affect its interpretation. It attempts to define the Government in Delhi to mean the Lieutenant General in all legislation passed by the assembly. This is in line with former LG Najeeb Jung’s opinion that the Government means the LG of NCT appointed by the President. The new bill aims to tilt the balance of power in favour of the Lt General. It bars the legislative assembly from making any rule or executive decision or enables itself or its committees regarding the city-state’s administration or to conduct inquiries about administrative decisions without seeking opinions from the LG.
The bill also said that any rules that are passed before this Act would be void. It also forces the legislative assembly to have its Procedure and Conduct of Business in line with that of the Parliament.
The Statement of Objects and Reasons attached with the draft bill read, “The said bill will promote harmonious relations between the legislature and the executive, and further define the responsibilities of the elected government and the lieutenant governor, in line with the constitutional scheme of governance of National Capital Territory of Delhi, as interpreted by the Hon’ble Supreme Court,”.
What Are The Proposed Amendments?
The Centre wants to amend Sections 21, 24, 33 and 44 of the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi Act, 1991.
● Section 21 of the Act talks about restrictions on the legislative assembly to pass laws on some issues. The bill adds a subsection to clarify that the Government means the Lt General in any law passed by the assembly.
● To Section 24, the bill adds an amendment the LG will not assent to any bill that is not in line with the legislative assembly’s powers.
● Section 33 of the Act allows the Delhi assembly to make its own rules to conduct its business. The bill adds a clause that the house’s rules and procedures should be consistent with the Lok Sabha’s rules and procedures. It also says that any such rule made before the 2021 Act is passed will be void.
● The bill seeks to amend Section 44, which presently 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 bill seeks to add that the Lt General’s opinion must be before the assembly takes any action.
Harsh Criticism From Major Political Parties
The Deputy Chief Minister of Delhi has called this amendment dangerous and expressed his fear that the Government in Delhi will mean nothing after the bill is passed. He also said that the bill goes against the federal structure of the country.
He said, “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 is an elected government in the state? Why does the Centre pretend to be democratic?”
Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said, “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.”
In a tweet, Congress leader P Chidambaram compared the LG to a Viceroy- “Under the proposed amendments, the L-G appointed by the Central government will become a Viceroy exercising all powers according to the wishes of his master.”
The AAP is also planning a major protest against the bill.