In a landmark judgment that clarifies the respective roles of Lt Governor and chief minister of Delhi in view of the constant tussle between them in recent times, the Supreme Court has done well to clear the air and fix responsibility and powers.
The most significant aspect of Wednesday’s judgment of the apex court is the assertion that Delhi Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal does not have independent decision-making powers and is bound to act on the aid and advice of the Delhi government’s council of ministers.
That the Lt Governor was riding roughshod and bulldozing his decisions was clear from the manner in which decision-making was happening in the state. The judgment was pronounced by the Constitution bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra. The apex court observed that the Delhi LG cannot act as an ‘obstructionist’.
“There is no room for absolutism and there is no room for anarchism also,” the court ruled, in a veiled reference to the LG’s role and that of the chief minister.
The court also ruled that all decisions of the council of ministers need to be communicated to the LG but that does not mean his concurrence is required.
The court also said that except for three issues — land, police and public order--- the Delhi government has the power to legislate and govern on other issues. This is a shot in the arm for the Arvind Kejriwal government which has been complaining that its hands were tied and the lack of powers was hampering its work.
In effect, the Kejriwal government which has shown little initiative on fulfilling its promises to the electorate will have no pretext of hindrance to bank upon. It will have to deliver on its promises in less than two years of the Assembly’s life that remain. By ruling that there is no room for anarchy, the judgment of the five-judge bench has had an indirect dig at the Kejriwal government.
While Kejriwal and his men have displayed great euphoria over the verdict they cannot whitewash the fact that their prime demand of statehood for Delhi has been rejected by the bench. That should have a chastening effect on Kejriwal and his team which is given to theatrics.
While in rare cases of serious differences between the Lt Governor and the chief minister, the court has allowed the former to refer the matter to the president, the issues referred must be ‘substantive or of national importance’ and not ‘trivial.’ “The LG cannot act without applying his mind and refer everything to the President,” ruled the bench.
Referring to the prolonged spat between the LG and the Kejriwal government on various issues, from a freeze on the appointment of bureaucrats to mohalla clinic staff to school teachers, Chief Justice Dipak Misra said, while reading the judgment, that the spirit of collective responsibility in the Constitution should not be ‘lost in drama.’ Constitutional discord should be avoided. There is a need for real discipline and wisdom, the verdict said.
Indeed, Delhi’s myriad problems are crying for attention. Power and water problems need speedy solutions. The environment is so polluted that it is a health hazard for the people to live in the country’s capital for long.
Instead of playing politics, the Kejriwal government needs to get down to serious business. The Modi government at the Centre too needs to shed its open hostility and antipathy towards the Aam Aadmi Party government and cooperate in Delhi’s development and welfare.
The Supreme Court has shown the way. Now, it is for both the Lt Governor and the chief minister to show greater acceptance and maturity in the interests of the people at large. The two parties must realise that the people would be watching in the run-up to the Lok Sabha and then the Assembly elections.