Time to talk

The stand-off in Delhi hurts all concerned

In the ugly face-off with Lieutenant Governor Najeeb Jung over the appointment of an acting Chief Secretary, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has disregarded the limits placed on his powers. While it may be his ardent desire to be treated on par with chief ministers of States, the plain truth is that Delhi has only partially evolved to full statehood. Also, unlike Governors of States, those who administer Union Territories are not bound by the advice of the Council of Ministers. This is expressly stated in a proviso to the Article (239AA) that created the Delhi Legislative Assembly. Also, the Supreme Court has upheld that in the event of a disagreement between a lieutenant governor and a chief minister, the former should refer the matter to the President. Meanwhile, he or she is empowered to give such directions as deemed necessary, the power that Jung is evidently citing in defence of himself.

The Kejriwal government, which had objected to the appointment of Shakuntala Gamlin as the acting Chief Secretary by Jung, has argued that the LG cannot bypass the elected government. This claim has no basis in law. Also cited is the massive mandate Kejriwal won as a defence — implying that it is the government (and not Jung) that has the popular authority to appoint the bureaucrats. This argument has an obvious appeal and indeed there is something very odd about preventing a chief minister from appointing the bureaucrats he wants. But this is something that cannot be resolved by confrontation and, irrespective of the size of the mandate, Kejriwal as chief minister is as much a creature of the Constitution as Lieutenant Governor Jung is. So, while it is one thing to push for full statehood for Delhi, it is quite another to arrogate powers to oneself on the grounds of having won a massive mandate.

If we set aside the personal egos behind this face-off, the controversy highlights the unique governance structures in Union Territories and their uneven march towards full statehood. Whether this is possible — or even desirable given the number of sensitive installations, institutions and overlapping jurisdictions in Delhi — is bound to be hotly contested. Former Delhi CM Sheila Dikshit, who now says that Kejriwal should settle the issue through discussions, herself took issue with the Centre in 2002 when the Vajpayee government had virtually removed the lawmaking powers of the Delhi Assembly by making it mandatory for all draft Bills to be first approved by the LG. If Kejriwal wants more powers in order to do his job properly, he must persuade the Centre to usher in the necessary changes to allow for this. His argument that the will of the people of Delhi, as expressed in the mandate, should be respected, would have so much more resonance if he attempted to iron out his differences through debate and discussion rather than the politics of confrontation.

Published on May 19, 2015
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