Deadlock over Delhi government is a huge challenge to federalism

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he National Capital Territory of Delhi is not new to political spectacles, or drama, as they say, especially since the last three years when the Aam Aadmi Party government came to power with Arvind Kejriwal at the helm, but the developments of the past one week have surprised even the weary political experts.

Since last one week, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, along with his ministers, including Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia and Health Minister Satyendra Jain, have been doing a “sit-in” at the waiting room of the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi, Anil Baijal, to protest against the non-cooperation of the senior IAS officers with the AAP ministers in the matters of daily governance.

The main grievances of the AAP Ministers pertain to the “informal strike” by the IAS officers, especially at the senior level, over more than four months, and non-approval of LG to a scheme of doorstep ration delivery to the citizens of Delhi.

Since electing a new government in February, 2015, Delhi has witnessed intense power struggles between the Central government led by BJP, and the AAP government in Delhi, with the Central government making every attempt to undermine the democratically elected AAP government through the office of LG, who is appointed by the Central government.

Genesis of the crisis

In fact, the genesis of the current crisis can be traced to the complex constitutional issue of the legal status of Delhi, i.e., whether it is a “State” or a “Union Territory” under the Constitution, which is currently reserved for decision before the Supreme Court of India [Govt. of National Capital Territory of Delhi Vs. Naresh Kumar, Special Leave Petition (Civil) No. 26470/2016].

Ministry of Home Affairs has issued repeated notifications encroaching into the AAP government’s powers

In the last three years, the Centre, especially the Ministry of Home Affairs, has issued repeated notifications encroaching into the AAP government’s powers, e.g., disbanding the Anti-Corruption Bureau of the NCT of Delhi in 2015, or stalling the latter’s decisions on many civic and governance issues. In August, 2016, Delhi High Court rejected the AAP government’s plea on the Delhi’s status as a “State”, and held that LG was the administrative head of the NCT of Delhi, which was appealed by the Delhi government in the Supreme Court, and is reserved till today.

Non-cooperation by bureaucrats

In the last few months, several reports have surfaced in the media about the alleged insubordination and non-cooperation of the IAS officers to work in coordination with the AAP ministers, despite repeated requests from the latter. The bureaucrats have apparently refused to attend meetings called by the ministers or follow any instructions. This has resulted in almost a complete halt to the daily decision-making process as well as severely impaired the on-going administration of the Delhi government.

The tussle between the two seemed to have escalated after the alleged assault on the Chief Secretary of Delhi, Anshu Prakash, at the CM’s house in February, 2018. Importantly, the IAS officers are under the direct control of the Central government, and the Delhi government has no control over their service conditions, including postings and promotions, which makes them completely non-accountable to the Delhi government.

Accordingly, the CM and his ministers have frequently requested Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the LG to intervene and resolve the crisis, but nothing was done. In fact, a PIL has been filed in the Delhi High Court seeking direction to the LG to ensure that the informal strike by the IAS officers was called off, and they are asked to attend the meetings called by Delhi ministers [Umesh Gupta vs. Lieutenant Governor of Delhi & Ors., Writ Petition (Civil) No.   of 2018], while another PIL been filed in the Delhi High Court seeking a declaration that the “strike” called by Arvind Kejriwal and his ministers be termed “illegal”, and they be asked to resume their ministerial duties [Hari Nath Ram v NCT of Delhi, Writ Petition (Civil) No. 6618 of 2018].

Questions of federalism

It is evident that the issue of Delhi’s governance is as much as a political issue as it is a legal issue. The Government of NCT was established in 1993, vide the Government of NCT Act, and since then, Delhi has had the distinction of being a unique State, with a democratically elected government, but under the overall administrative control of the office of LG, i.e., of the Union Government. In no other time, the administration of Delhi was paralysed like this, or the Ministers complained of complete “powerlessness”.

Since the defeat of BJP in the Assembly elections in 2015, the Central Government has tried every trick in the book to subvert the democratic functioning of the Delhi Government

Since the defeat of BJP in the Assembly elections in 2015, the Central Government has tried every trick in the book to subvert the democratic functioning of the Delhi Government, including filing cases under AAP MLAs, getting them disqualified, raiding the CM’s office, filing defamation cases against the CM, and other MLAs, and blocking most administrative decisions, amongst others.

It is a pity that the Supreme Court is yet to give a decision in the case, though the matter was reserved months back, and was heard on an urgent basis, since the Delhi government argued that the daily administration was almost paralysed, and the issue needed to be resolved soon. The court cannot be a mute spectator to the constant assault on the federal structure as well as the democratic functioning of the Delhi government, by the current BJP regime, whether in Delhi or in the other non-BJP ruled States.

It is hoped that both the court and the people of Delhi would teach a lesson or two to the present Central regime on respecting both the democratic mandate and the democratic institutions of this country. And the IAS officers should also listen to those lessons. (IPA)


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