In the much-contested and publicized matter between the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government and the lieutenant governor (L-G) of Delhi, the constitution bench of five judges of the Supreme Court, through three separate judgements, has upheld the claims of the government on a number of grounds among which the democratic principle and federalism have played a dominant role.
From the very beginning of the idea of establishing a constitutional state in India, Indian leaders and later the Constitution makers had always envisaged a democratic India, based on a parliamentary form of government in which people’s representatives have a predominant position both in the legislature and the executive. The Constitution achieved that goal by establishing the parliamentary form of government both at the national and state level and incorporated it in the Preamble to the Constitution. The establishment of federalism has not been stated anywhere in the Constitution, including its Preamble, but it is reflected not only in the division of the Union of India and its 29 states but also at the grassroots levels of villages and municipalities. Like democracy, federalism is also one of the unamendable basic features of the Constitution. This background and the existing structure of the Constitution have played a decisive role in the final decision of the court.
Although Delhi is a Union territory and not a state, it has a special position with a legislature elected like that in any state and a council of ministers to aid and advice the L-G in the exercise of powers. The position of the L-G is no better than the position of the governor of a state—except that he can withhold any decision of the council of ministers for the consideration of the President. But such withholding must be the exception and not a matter of course on a day-to-day basis. As Delhi is also the capital of the country this much power of the L-G is well understood just as the governors in the states also have some discretionary powers to withhold the decisions of their council of ministers.
The L-G’s power in this regard is narrower as compared to that of the governors who can exercise some powers in their discretion too.
The working of the Constitution depends not only on its provisions but also on an understanding of its goals and ways of realising them. In that context, neither the representatives of the people as legislators and ministers nor the representative of the c entre in the states or Union territories as governors or L-Gs are expected to act in a fashion that makes the Constitution unworkable. In that respect, today’s judgement is highly educative for those who work as per the Constitution as well as for every citizen of the country.
Let us hope in all respects the Constitution is operated as smoothly as was expected by it makers which is ideally reflected in today’s judgement.
Mahendra Pal Singh is the chair professor at centre for Comparative Law of National Law University, Delhi. He is the former chairperson of Delhi Judicial Academy and former vice-chancellor of the National University of Juridical Sciences, Kolkata.