SC judgment on the Delhi government-LG confrontation: A major push for the struggle for full statehood for Delhi

The five member bench of Supreme Court headed  in its judgment today has restored the balance of power in the national capital by stating that the real power rests with the Council of Ministers. The apex court also said that the Delhi government has the power to legislate on all issues except land, police and public order, as per provisions in the Constitution. The apex court ruled that Delhi enjoys special status and is not a full state. It also said outlined limit of powers the Delhi LG has. The SC said that the powers of the Lt Governor do not equal that of a state Governor, adding that the LG cannot act independently. It also observed that the L-G must work in accordance with the Council of Ministers, that he must take into account their “aid and advise” to implement the President’s decision. Five judge Bench has adhered to SC’s nine judge Bench decision of 1996 in the ‘NDMC versus State of Punjab’ case to hold that Delhi is not a State but ‘special’, nevertheless.

Delhi’s Chief Minister welcomed the judgment and minutes after the verdict was pronounced, he twitted:  “A big victory for the people of Delhi…a big victory for democracy.”

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Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia too has welcomed the Supreme Court’s verdict. Calling it a “landmark judgment”, Sisodia thanked the apex court, adding that the now the Delhi government will not have to send filed over to the LG’s office for approval and that work can run smoothly.

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This judgment becomes important since in the last three and half years, BJP has been using the office of LG to obstruct the elected government of Delhi from discharging its duty. The confrontation between the two reached its peak last month when the council of ministers of Delhi government along with the CM sat on indefinite dharna inside the LG’s office. The agitation was supported by left including the CPI (M). Chief minsiters of four states supported the Delhi government on this issue of fundamental importance to the federal structure and the centre-state relationship. This judgment should boost the struggle for full statehood of Delhi. Full statehood is an issue is fundamental to the interests of the working class and the poor of Delhi. The events of June saw perfect bonhomie between both Congress and BJP in obstructing the issue.

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A brief background on the peculiar administrative structure is something which needs to be revisited, if we are to make sense of the whole issue. Before independence, Delhi was one of the six Chief Commissioner’s Provinces. In 1950, when the Constitution came into existence, it was made a Part C state with its assembly and chief minister. But this lasted for only a few years. When states were reorganised in 1956, Delhi became a union territory under the direct control of the president through the chief commissioner. In 1966, under the Government of Union Territories Act 1966, an Executive Council was created for the capital. This arrangement continued till the “Government of National Capital Territory Act, 1991” was passed and Delhi got a legislative assembly and a council of ministers. But unlike other states, certain important subjects – public order, police, and land resource management (entries1, 2 and 18 of the state list) were however kept outside the purview of the assembly and the chief minister. The Lt. Governor exercises exclusive powers over these matters. Certain important bodies like the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) which is the sole owner and disposer of land in Delhi, and the Delhi Police were thus kept under the central government control.

Besides these, the municipal corporation is largely dependent on the central government. There are 57 sections/sub-Sections in the DMC Act through which the union government wields power over this body. A part of its funds come from the Delhi government and another part is devolved to it under the Finance Commission’s stipulations as share of taxes raised by the state government. Unlike local bodies in other states, the three municipal corporations in Delhi are much closely connected to the central government. The New Delhi Municipal Council which governs the VIP area of New Delhi is a nominated body directly under the central government.

This multiplicity of governance structures makes the working class suffer the most. The BJP used to be a supporter of the demand for full statehood for Delhi as long as they were not in the central government and former CM from BJP, Madan Lal Khurana used to be its biggest votary. However, their vision document released just before the 2015 assembly elections made no mention of this demand. BJP Delhi President and other leaders have been giving statements that Delhi doesn’t need full statehood. Congress, on the other hand,  has been intermittently talking about full statehood but has relied on adjustment and bargaining with the central government all through its 15 years of rule in Delhi between 1998 and 2014.

The AAP promised to fight for full statehood in its election campaign. However, the experiences of last three years have bitterly shown that it has utterly failed in using the mammoth electoral support garnered by it to build any mass mobilization on the issue. It has largely used the issue as a tactics of shadow boxing and camouflage its failures on key issues for the working class and the poor- such as the issue of minimum wages, the question of PDS, the question of making contract employees permanent, so on and forth. While saying all this, we are not ignoring the appreciable steps taken by the Delhi government in the field of health and school education- even though partial in their scale.

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This judgment of Supreme Court should galvanize the struggle for full statehood of Delhi. It is only through consistent mass mobilizations that the parties like BJP & Congress can be isolated on the issue and AAP can be forced to toe to its pre-election promise on the issue.

 

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