Big win for Delhi govt: Control over administrative services rests with state, rules SC

Apex court says LG’s powers do not empower him to interfere with the legislative powers of the Delhi Assembly and the elected government

Delhi services row, Supreme Court, Kejriwal, LG, Constitution Bench
The Supreme Court had asked the Centre earlier this year what was the need for an elected government if the Union government wanted to control the capital | File photo

The Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government scored a big win in the Supreme Court on Thursday (May 11) as the apex court in an unanimous verdict ruled that the Delhi government has legislative and executive powers over services.

Hearing the Centre versus the Delhi government case over the issue of demarcation of power, a constitution bench headed by Chief Justice DY Chandrachud said an elected government needs to have control over the administration.

The top court ruled that the Delhi government is similar to other states, represents the representative form of government and any further expansion of the Union’s power will be contrary to the Constitutional scheme.

Earlier, the Centre had argued that its ‘administrative’ control over Delhi bureaucrats was essential looking at the significance of Delhi being the capital and how issues of national security were also involved in the governance of the city.

The constitution bench refused to agree with the 2019 judgement of Justice Ashok Bhushan that ruled that the city government has no power over the issue of services. The bench, which also comprised Justices M R Shah, Krishna Murari, Hima Kohli and P S Narasimha, said democracy and federal structure are part of the basic structure of the Constitution.

CJI Chandrachud, however, said the Centre has power over land, and law and order, and the Delhi government’s control should not extend to these realms.

The bench also ruled that the lieutenant governor (LG) cannot exercise all-encompassing administrative control over all issues relating to the Union Territory.

The top court added that the LG’s powers do not empower him to interfere with the legislative powers of the Delhi Assembly and the elected government.

Also read: Delhi: A case of an elected government being rendered toothless

The Delhi tussle

The bench reserved its verdict on January 18 after hearing the arguments of both the sides.

The Arvind Kejriwal-led Delhi government has been engaged in a tussle with the Lieutenant Governor ever since it came to power in 2014.

In 2018, the Delhi government moved court, accusing the Lieutenant Governor of meddling with its decisions pertaining to the posting of and transfer of civil servants. The AAP government told the top court that the LG cancelled appointments of bureaucrats, delayed clearing of files and obstructed basic decision-making.

Also read: Supreme Court reserves verdict on Delhi-Centre services row

“No room for absolutism”

In 2019, the Supreme Court ruled that the government will have a final say in all matters of governance, while clarifying that the Constitution does not give the LG any “independent decision-making powers” apart from dealing with issues linked to land, police, and public order.

Stating that there was “no room for absolutism” and “anarchism,” the top court also said that the LG must act on the advice of the council of ministers while deciding on matters related to the National Capital Territory (NCT).

In 2019, another bench that was hearing several individual aspects related to the government-LG tussle, including control over civil services, gave a split verdict. The matter was then referred to a Constitution Bench on the request of the Centre.

The Centre, during the hearing of the case in January had argued that the purpose of having a Union Territory was that the “Union wants to administer the territory.” The apex court in reply had asked the Centre what was the need for an elected government if the Union government wants to control the capital.

(With inputs from agencies)