Thursday’s Supreme Court order on the jurisdiction of the Delhi government cannot be seen in isolation. I would say the Supreme Court has at least cleared what exactly can be done and what cannot (by the state and centre), and the remaining will now go to a larger bench. On the face of it, I see this order quite balanced, because it recognizes that the elected government has a role and authority to administer transferred subjects, for instance, power, and several other subjects.

The National Capital Territory (NCT) Act makes it quite clear that there are transferred subjects and reserved subjects. Every decision does not need the lieutenant governor (L-G)’s approval; but policy changes do need to be shown to the L-G and, if there is disagreement, then L-G’s authority will prevail. But if there is still a problem, it will go to the President of India, which means the central government.

There was a certain way in which the government was functioning until 2014. In 2015, the (home ministry) order came, which changed the transaction of business rules. It is because of this background, and other problems that arose on many scores, which included not just anti-corruption but many others, that matters were blown much beyond what used to happen in previous years. This led to the matter being taken up by the Supreme Court. So, this has to be seen in that context.

I think that the judgement has very clearly brought out the territorial jurisdiction. If the elected government has to deal with a transferred subject (transferred to the government which is 80% of what happens in Delhi,) it has independence to do so, provided the systems set out in the Transaction of Business Rules are followed. The elected representatives have already been given the authority to decide within that prescribed framework. I would say that everything was working fairly well until 2013-14 and the previous governments, whether they were the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) or Congress, were managing.

The problem arose—may be it is my conjecture—in 2015 when the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) came with a thundering majority with 67 out of 70 MLAs. They really felt that it was an indication given by the people of Delhi that they wanted the government to do whatever the elected representatives thought was in the interest of the people. That was where the problem arose. Whether the mandate was of 67 or 37, that was not important, once elected, the rules, procedures, systems, conventions and traditions, which have been laid down for years, had to be observed or overcome, either through a legal route or by persuasion. A completely new dispensation cannot be created only because the mandate is large.

Shailaja Chandra is a former chief secretary of Delhi.


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