In a setback to Delhi’s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government, the Delhi high court on Thursday upheld the administrative powers of the Lieutenant-Governor (L-G) in matters of public order, land, police and services—including the power to appoint civil servants—in the national capital.

“Directions under the notification granting independence in decision making to the Lt. Governor are neither illegal nor unconstitutional," said G. Rohini, chief justice of the Delhi high court.

The Delhi government said it will appeal the ruling in the Supreme Court.

“Delhi government disagrees with the decision of the Hon’ble Delhi high court on powers distribution and will challenge the HC verdict in SC," said a spokesperson for the Delhi government.

The ruling comes at a time when Delhi chief minister and AAP national convener Arvind Kejriwal is away in the hills of Dharamsala for a 10-day course in Buddhist vipassana meditation techniques.

Delhi is a special state where matters of law, order and land come under the central home ministry—a status that has led to mounting tensions between the state and the central governments, who are rivals on the national stage.

The high court emphasized the administrative capacity of the L-G while ruling that Delhi continues to be a Union territory under the Transaction of Business Rules despite Article 239 AA of the Constitution making some special provisions with respect to Delhi.

In accordance with this, a batch of cases where an inquiry was initiated by the AAP government without the concurrence of the L-G was dismissed and held illegal.

All notifications initiating such inquiries were struck down under the court’s orders.

These included the Delhi government’s inquiry into alleged irregularities in the issuance of compressed natural gas (CNG) certificates to vehicles and a probe into alleged malpractices and irregularities in the functioning of the Delhi and District Cricket Association, among others.

“It is mandatory under the constitutional scheme to communicate the decision of the council of ministers to the Lt. Governor even in relation to matters in respect of which power to make laws is conferred on the legislative assembly of NCT of Delhi." the court held.

NCT, or the national capital territory, is the city-state that falls within the geographical boundary of Delhi.

Calling it a historic judgement, Najeeb Jung, L-G of Delhi, said, “I and my colleagues have tried to stay in spirit to the letter and ideology that is enshrined in the Constitution. This judgement is interesting because the arguments went on for one year. This is an issue of the sanctity of the Constitution. We have tried to stay true to the Constitution in the last one-and-a-half years. That is where disputes have often come up."

Most recently, the issue arose with the passing of a notification by the ministry of home affairs (MHA) on 21 May, which replaced a 1998 notification on the powers of the L-G and the Delhi government.

The 1998 notification said that in matters of public order, police and services, the L-G of Delhi would consult the chief minister, and if there were no consultation, the reasons would be recorded. The new notification, however, said that in police and other service matters, the L-G could make decisions independently.

This led to a face-off between the central government led by the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Delhi government over various issues, including the appointment of civil servants.

Challenging the MHA notification and claiming it extended unprecedented powers to the L-G, the Delhi government moved the Delhi high court in May 2015.

As the matter proceeded to be heard, several pleas which arose from the turf war between Delhi L-G Jung and the state government over the distribution of powers were brought before the court.

The centre had claimed that under Article 239 AA, which carved out special provisions for Delhi, it was a Union territory. The office of the L-G is different from that of a governor as he is the executive head of the state, it maintained.

The Delhi government contended that the L-G could not have the discretion of taking independent decisions and had to take the advice of the council of ministers in matters regarding land, police and public order.

“The contention of the Delhi government that the Lt. Governor is bound to act only on the aid and advice of the council of ministers in relation to matters in respect of which the power to make laws has been conferred to the legislative assembly of NCT of Delhi under Article 239AA, is without substance and cannot be accepted," the 194-page judgement stated.

Responding to the judgement which was passed after a year of arguments in court, Ajay Maken, president of Congress’s Delhi unit, wrote on his Twitter handle, “High Court rules against Kejriwal Government! Upheld Lieutenant Governor notifications- LG-Kejriwal spat wasted 18 months-brought Delhi to a standstill".

On 1 July this year, the Delhi government moved the Supreme Court, seeking a stay on the Delhi high court’s proceedings in the tussle between the centre and the city-state.

Senior advocate Indira Jaising, appearing for the Delhi government, said that the main question to be addressed by the apex court was whether Delhi can be considered a state under the Constitution.

A bench headed by justice Dipak Misra said the apex court wouldn’t interfere in the issue, given that the Delhi high court had reserved its judgement at that point in time.

“We are unsatisfied with the judgement of the Hon’ble high court," said deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia. “We will present our grievance before the Supreme Court. Where do the people of Delhi go today when they have a problem? Does the elected government have the right to work or will they go to the L-G or the central government? According to the Constitution, Delhi is a Union territory with a legislature and we will fight for this."

Pretika Khanna contributed to this story.

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