In a huge jolt to the Arvind Kejriwal government, President Ram Nath Kovind on Sunday (March 28) approved the controversial bill that accords primacy to Delhi’s Lieutenant Governor (L-G) over the elected government.
The central government announced about the presidential assent to the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (Amendment) Bill, 2021 through a gazette notification.
According to the legislation, the “government” in Delhi means the “Lieutenant Governor” and the city government will now have to seek the opinion of the L-G before taking any executive action.
The bill was passed in the Lok Sabha on March 22 and Rajya Sabha on March 24.
It is a huge setback for the Arvind Kejriwal government which has been at loggerheads with the Governor over state affairs since 2013.
After Rajya Sabha passed the bill, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal termed it a “sad day for Indian democracy”.
The Centre has maintained that the bill is in line with the Supreme Court’s July 2018 ruling on the ambit of powers of the Lieutenant Governor and the Delhi government after a series of run-ins between the two.
Union Minister G Kishan Reddy had said the amendments would lead to transparency and clarity in governance in NCT of Delhi and enhance public accountability.
Explaining the rationale behind the bill, he said the amendments have been brought to remove ambiguities in the existing Act.
He stressed that changes in the law have been sought in the spirit of what has been said in a Supreme Court judgment and maintained that there no political angle and the amendments are on “technical” grounds.
“The proposed bill does not curtail in any manner any of the powers enjoyed by the government of NCT Delhi which are already provided in the Constitution,” he had said.
In June 2018, Kejriwal and his Cabinet ministers had staged a sit-in at the Lieutenant Governor’s office as a power tussle between the then L-G and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government had intensified.
The Supreme Court had in July 2018 ruled that the Lieutenant Governor cannot interfere in every decision of the Delhi government and that he must act on aid and advice of the council of ministers.
The Aam Aadmi Party has already said it was planning to approach the Supreme Court against the legislation, alleging it was an “unconstitutional” attempt to make the Delhi government “administratively impotent” by a political party that has been made “electorally impotent” by the people of the national capital.
The Congress, Trinamool Congress, Shiv Sena, DMK and other opposition parties also termed the bill “unconstitutional” and claimed that it would fail judicial scrutiny. They had demanded that it be examined by a Select Committee.
According to the statement of objects and reasons of the bill, to give effect to the interpretation made by the Supreme Court which had ruled that the city government need not obtain the Lieutenant Governors “concurrence” of every issue of day-to-day governance, the bill has been brought.
“The said bill will promote harmonious relations between the legislature and the executive, and further define the responsibilities of the elected government and the L-G, in line with the constitutional scheme of governance of the National Capital Territory of Delhi, as interpreted by the Supreme Court,” the statement of objects said.
Minister Reddy said that the GNCTD law was first brought in 1991. However, the law went to the high court and Supreme Court benches as there were problems and ambiguity.
“It is our responsibility to give clarity. Nothing is being added to the GNCTD Act which is contrary to constitutional framework…,” he said, adding that the bill proposes four key amendments.
The minister said that Delhi is not a full-fledged state and does not have full power. Executive powers of the L-G of Delhi are different from the powers of Governors of the state.
The Delhi assembly can make laws on all subjects in the state list and concurrent list except public order, police and land.
The bill stated that the legislative assembly shall not make any rule to enable itself or its committees to consider the matters of the day-to-day administration of the national capital or conduct inquiries in relation to the administrative decisions.