Capital control: Why Centre, Delhi govt are slugging it out at Supreme Court

Centre says Delhi is the face of the nation, so it should have powers over its public servants; AAP government say the Centre is negating federalism

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta told the apex court, “Delhi is the face of the nation. The world views India through Delhi.” Pic: iStock

Ruling the nation from Delhi is the aspiration of every Indian party. But ruling Delhi itself is no less an ambition for most, as suggested by the constant tug-of-war between the government at the Centre and the one in the state.

The NDA regime at the Centre and Arvind Kejriwal-led AAP government in Delhi have been at loggerheads over ruling the Capital for over eight years now. Now, the battle is getting waged in the Supreme Court, where the Union government is insisting that Delhi is the “face of the nation” and hence it needs to have control over the administrative services of the city. The AAP government in Delhi is taking exception to this.

Split verdict of 2019

The Supreme Court has been hearing a petition filed by the Delhi government against the Centre for controlling Delhi’s administrative services.

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The plea by the Delhi government came after a split verdict of February 14, 2019, in which a two judge-bench of Justices AK Sikri and Ashok Bhushan recommended to the Chief Justice of India that a three-judge bench be set up to finally decide the issue of control of services in the national capital.

On Wednesday (April 27), Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Union government, told the apex court: “Since Delhi is the national capital, it is necessary that the Centre has powers over appointments and transfers of public servants. Delhi is the face of the nation. The world views India through Delhi.” “Since it is the national capital, it’s necessary that the Centre has special powers over its administration and has control over important issues,” he added.

The Union government appealed to the top court that the contentious issue of who should control administrative services in Delhi be referred to a Constitution Bench. The AAP government in Delhi opposed this.

“There is no need to refer the matter to a larger bench as being suggested by the Centre. During the last two-three hearings, the Central government has been arguing for sending this matter to the Constitution Bench. There is also no need to discuss the Balakrishnan committee report as it was rejected,” said lawyer Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing for  the Delhi government.

The Centre’s stance

The NDA thinks that since Delhi is the national capital, the model of governance of the NCT of Delhi would invariably require the Union government to play a central role, even if a legislative assembly or Council of Ministers is introduced.

“It was for this reason, the models of governance, provided for other Union Territories were not considered appropriate for NCT of Delhi and a committee called the Balakrishnan Committee was set up to suggest an appropriate governance model, which could balance the need of the Union’s role and at the same time provide platform for democratic aspirations of the people,” Mehta told the bench also comprising Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli.

Negating federalism: AAP government

The apex court had earlier asked the Centre if the 2018 judgment on the power row had said the Assembly was redundant and the Lieutenant Governor (LG) can have power over legislative functions. The top court had posed the question while commencing the hearing on the contentious issue, with the AAP government alleging that the Centre has been negating federalism by taking away its power of transfer and posting.

The Centre had referred to Article 239AA (which deals with Delhi and its power) and said that it was a mirror image of a report which had said that Delhi being the national capital cannot be a full-fledged state and the Lieutenant Governor is a stakeholder and this position has not been diluted.

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