Not a full-fledged State

In maintaining that Delhi is just a Union Territory, the Delhi High Court has answered some major and unresolved questions about the constitutional status of the National Capital Region. The Court has held that the special provisions incorporated for Delhi, under Article 239AA of the Constitution, do not negate the effect of Article 239, which empowers the Lt Governor to act independently of his Council of Ministers; in other words, the concurrence of the Lt Governor is mandatory for administrative decisions. Unless the Supreme Court adopts a diametrically opposite view, the Aam Aadmi Party, which has engaged in a turf war with the Centre over who rules Delhi, will have to abide by the categorical ruling that the Lt Governor is not bound to act on the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers. Given that the Supreme Court had taken a similar position in the NDMC vs State of Punjab case, the Delhi High Court judgment is no surprise. But the popular debate will continue about whether the right balance has been struck between the Union government’s responsibility in exercising control over an area in which Parliament, other key central institutions, and foreign missions are located and the democratic principle that people are ruled by a representative government.

At the political level, one may read into the developments a political setback to Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, whose AAP enjoys a massive majority in the Delhi State Assembly. Mr. Kejriwal had been locked in a power struggle with Lt Governor Najeeb Jung and had championed the cause of making Delhi a full-fledged State. As for the Bharatiya Janata Party, it may read the judgment as a vindication of its position that Mr. Kejriwal must accept the constitutional limitations of his office. The AAP has questioned the relevance of holding elections if the winning party is not going to run the territory. It is also a fact that such a tussle for supremacy arises from personality clashes and particularly when rival parties are in power at the Centre and in the NCT. However, in the public perception, some questions will remain. Is it wise to put in place structures that are open to multiple interpretations about who really runs what aspect of the administration? Is it necessary to have an ‘aid and advice’ clause when the LG has a virtual veto, and the Union government the final say, over matters concerning Delhi? Would it also not be prudent to have a much less ambiguous legal and constitutional framework?

Keywords: Lt Governor of Delhi, AAP government, New Delhi, constitutional status of National Capital Region, Delhi High Court


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