The Supreme Court on Wednesday has acknowledged the primacy of the elected government of Delhi over the Lieutenant Governor in the administration of the national capital. It said the LG has to act on the aid and advice of the council of ministers and he does not enjoy any independent decision-making power. Clearing the air surrounding the roles of the elected government and the LG, the court ruled that the “status of NCT of Delhi is sui generis, a class apart, and the status of the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi is not that of a Governor of a State, rather he remains an administrator, in a limited sense, working with the designation of Lieutenant Governor”.
The apex court did not strike down a previous Delhi High Court verdict that gave the LG more powers. But it obliquely steered the conversation in a different direction. The SC has emphasised the need for collective responsibility – on the part of the LG and the ministers – for the effective administration of Delhi. The verdict lays down and interprets the broad constitutional contours governing the relationship between the LG and the elected government. But it is not as though it has handed the elected government untrammelled powers. The Centre, and, by extension, the LG, retains the power to legislate on the issues of land, law and order and police.
This reiteration of the constitutional scheme by the top court does not clarify everything, though.
The five-judge bench led by the Chief Justice of India has said that a smaller bench of two judges will decide on pending matters in which, because of a conflict between the government and the LG, resolution is pending. These matters relate to the appointment and transfer of bureaucrats, power of the Delhi government to appoint public prosecutors in Delhi and also of constituting a commission of inquiry.
The seeds of this confusion between the LG and the elected government were sown by the 69 constitutional amendments in 1991 that created a legislative assembly and made a national capital of Delhi. While the idea of the amendment was to give a larger say to the people of Delhi in its governance, it gave rise to friction between the elected government and the LG.
Another important ongoing issue is whether Delhi can be granted statehood. The court ruled that “it is clear as noon day that by no stretch of imagination, NCT of Delhi can be accorded the status of a State under our present constitutional scheme”.
The elected government in Delhi may have more authority than it has had of late. But with power comes responsibility. It should have no further excuse to not get down to working on and finding solutions to problems such as power, electricity and water that plague our capital.
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