In an important judgment clarifying the special status for Delhi, the Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled that the Lieutenant Governor (LG) was bound by the aid and advice of the council of ministers except in matters of land, police, and public order.
The LG cannot interfere in each and every decision of the Delhi government, a Constitution Bench headed by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra said.
The Supreme Court pointed out that the Legislative Assembly represented the views of the elected representatives, and their opinion and decisions had to be respected in all cases except where the LG decides to make a reference to the President.
But even here, the LG had to exercise his power on valid reason after due consideration, when it becomes necessary to safeguard the interest of the Union Territory, the court said.
The Bench of Chief Justice Misra, Justice AK Sikri, Justice AM Khanwilkar, Justice D Y Chandrachud and Justice Ashok Bhushan, was hearing a Delhi government appeal against the Delhi High Court order that had said that the LG was the administrative head of Delhi’s government.
Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal have been locked in a fierce tussle over who has the powers to take important decisions about administering Delhi. Kejriwal and his ministers had recently staged a sit-in at the Lieutenant-Governor House, seeking his intervention to end an officers’ boycott.
The tussle had started soon after the 2015 assembly elections, when Najeeb Jung, Baijail’s predecessor, was the Lieutenant Governor.
Judgment Delineates Powers of CM, LG
The judgment by three members of the Bench including Chief Justice Dipak Misra, Justice Sikri, and Justice Khanwilkar, pointed out that the authorities in power have the responsibility to ensure that the fundamental purpose of administration is the welfare of the people in an ethical manner.
“It has to be remembered that our Constitution is a constructive one. There is no room for absolutism. There is no space for anarchy,” the judgment observed.
Justice Chandrachud, who gave a separate but concurring judgment, underlined the fact that Delhi continues to be a Union Territory.
“The functioning of institutions must establish a constitutional balance which facilitates cooperative governance. Governance in cooperation is both a hallmark and a necessity of our constitutional structure,” Justice Chandrachud noted.
In another separate but concurring judgment on the special status for Delhi, Justice Ashok Bhushan noted that the LG has to be kept informed of all proposals, agenda, and decisions taken to keep him posted with the administration of Delhi.
This is to enable him to exercise the powers given to him under law. The Judge added that the “purpose of communication is not to obtain concurrence of the LG”.
The Supreme Court had reserved its judgment in December last year, after hearing extensive arguments from lawyers of the Delhi government and those of the Centre and the Lieutenant Governor.
Special Status For Delhi In 1991
The Supreme Court delved extensively into the history of Delhi’s administrative character after it became the capital of India in 1911 replacing Calcutta (now Kolkata).
Delhi continued to be a centrally administered territory under the Government of India Act, 1919, and the Government of India Act, 1935. The Constitution of India came into force on 26 January 1950, when the country became a Republic, and Delhi became a Part C state under its provisions.
This meant that Delhi would have its own Legislative Assembly that could make laws on most matters related to its administration. This, however, excluded public order, police, public utility authorities like municipal corporations, and lands and buildings vested in the Union.
First Chief Ministers of Delhi
Congress leader Chaudhary Brahm Prakash became the first Chief Minister of Delhi in 1952.
Gurmukh Nihal Singh, also of the Congress, became the second Chief Minister before the 7th Constitutional Amendment of 1956 did away with this arrangement.
The amendment abolished the Legislative Assembly, and Delhi became a Union Territory to be administered by an administrator appointed by the President.
A few years later, a new law provided for a Legislative Assembly in Union Territories but this did not cover Delhi. It would instead, through the Delhi Administration Act, 1966, get a 61-member Metropolitan Council, including five nominated members.
Special Status For Delhi
This arrangement continued for over two decades, till the Parliament accepted the recommendations of the Balakrishnan Committee and passed the 69th Constitution Amendment Act of 1991. Two new Articles, 239AA and 239AB, were inserted into the Constitution by Parliament on the basis of the recommendations of the Balakrishnan Committee.
The Supreme Court referred to the committee’s recommendations that said that Delhi should continue being a Union Territory but it should have a Legislative Assembly and a Council of Ministers accountable to the assembly with appropriate powers. It also recommended that the existing designation of Lieutenant-Governor as the Administrator should continue.
Governments After The Special Status For Delhi
The first elections to the Delhi Assembly were held in 1993, with the Bharatiya Janata Party winning a majority of seats. Senior party leader Madan Lal Khurana became the Chief Minister. He was succeeded by Sahib Singh Verma and, briefly, by current Minister for External Affairs Sushma Swaraj.
The next election, in 1988, saw the Congress emerge as winners and Shiela Dikshit became the Chief Minister. She continued for three more terms, till December 2013, when elections led to a hung assembly with no party getting a majority.
The newly-formed Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) briefly formed a government with outside support from the Congress but this lasted for less than two months.
President’s Rule was imposed after the government fell. Fresh elections held in 2015 saw a clean sweep by the Arvind Kejriwal-led AAP as it won 67 seats; the Congress was decimated and the BJP won three seats.
Kejriwal has long alleged that the BJP-led government at the Centre was using the LG to block crucial decisions taken by the AAP government after it came to power. He claims that the BJP is doing this as a political revenge for losing the elections so badly.