India has seen some real changes in the last decade. From government schemes related to schools, residences, water and electricity, to demonetisation and new agriculture laws; it has surely been a political rollercoaster as we have seen a full plate of protests with a side of opposition walk-outs and parliamentary suspensions. Adding to the list, is the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (GNCTD) Amendment Bill, 2021. Fuming up a political squall, this bill seeks to redefine the roles and powers of the Delhi government and its Lieutenant Governor (LG). The Centre has stated that this is to end ambiguity and is essential for the smooth governance of our national capital.
The Opposition has raised their voices against it, with some senior leaders even saying that the bill is anti-democratic and retrograding in nature. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), along with the Indian National Congress (INC) and other parties have staged a protest inside the Rajya Sabha (RS) after the bill was passed in the Lok Sabha (LS). These politicians allege that if this amendment is cleared in the RS too, it will decrease the power of the elected state government and “give” it to the LG, which raises a legitimate question as to why the elections were even held on the first place, if this was to be the scenario? The Opposition goes on to say that the elected government will have to take the permission of the LG before any executive decision, which in itself is unconstitutional and against the Supreme Court (SC) verdict of 4th July 2018, which ruled in favour of the Delhi government. In addition, the dissenting parties claimed that the authoritarian instinct of the ruling party cannot bear the embarrassing loss in the assembly elections (8 out of 70 seats) and the MCD bypolls (0 out of 8 seats), which is why they want to gain control in any way possible, even if it is against the key fundamental principles of governance. Furthermore, they allege that this amendment will make LG the supreme head of the Union Territory (UT) of Delhi and the Chief Minister (CM) will have no power to amend/implement laws. Given the recent history of the opposition, one is prompted to think that a protest is second nature to them.
For once, let’s put aside the viewpoints of the government at the Centre and look at some constitutional facts. The reason for this amendment to be enacted is that Delhi is not an ordinary state, it is a UT with limited legislative powers. According to article 239 of the Indian constitution, the administrator (LG in this case) who is appointed by the president, is the executive head of the UT. Not just Delhi, it was the same for Goa and Mizoram when they did not have statehood. The Opposition also misses out on a key aspect. AAP, particularly after the 2018 SC verdict, stopped sending information to the LG regarding implementation of laws, agendas and proposals which resulted in the LG not being able to use his discretionary power under article 239AA (seeking intervention of the president to stop a problematic bill from being implemented) and kept him abreast of any vital information from the side of the elected government, which is unconstitutional for any UT of India. When the opposition brings up the constitution, it forgets that article 239AA Section 4 states that all decisions will be taken in LG’s name. The proposed amendment bridges the gap of information that is left out in the article i.e., at what time should the elected government inform the LG? After, before or during any proposed bill? This time frame will ensure that the elected government will not misuse its power and act like a UT, not a state. The 1991 SC verdict (paragraph 598 and 284) states that the LG must be informed of all proposals, agendas and decisions of the cabinet which was not followed by the AAP government after the 2018 verdict of SC. On granting statehood to Delhi, the Opposition alleged that when the government at the Centre promised the same earlier in 2003, then why are they backing out now? The time they forget is 1991, when the then Home Minister SB Chavan had said that the Balakishan committee researched in depth and proved that granting statehood to Delhi will be against national interest as Delhi is the capital and it belongs to every citizen equally.
The current administration has clarified that this amendment does not increase or decrease anyone’s power, it just redefines and clarifies it, to end ambiguity and ensure smooth governance. Implementation of the bill will ensure that the Delhi Government takes the opinion of the LG before passing or implementing a certain bill, and not after, as it has been doing so far. The powers of the LG are made a mockery of, if his opinion is not sought prior to implementation. Also, as the Opposition has alleged that the Delhi Government will have to seek “permission “of the LG is invalid. The amendment states that “opinion” of the LG is mandatory. Clearly, opinion and permission are contradictory to each other. This is essential as we have seen what the elected government lacks. Therefore, it is for the Opposition to see that misrepresentation is not put to rotation. Be it CAA riots, COVID pandemic or cleaning of the Yamuna, they have always sought help from the central administration. This amendment will just help them govern Delhi in a more advanced and cooperative way as the government at the centre will also be informed of all the decisions that might be taken. All of this has been done keeping the constitution in mind.
The Opposition needs to realise that not every amendment is political, some are purely administrative in nature. Protesting every time on trivial and misinformed matters only takes the value of a legit protest down the hatch. If the adversaries keep on protesting on issues that don’t matter, there will come a day when nobody will turn up for any protest whatsoever, which is very critical for a healthy democracy like India. It brings us to a very important conclusion: If you play foul, you don’t get to cry foul!