Supreme Court clarified that the Delhi government should have control over services except those which fall outside the domain of the legislative Assembly and is controlled by the Centre. The Lieutenant Governor, which is appointed by the President, is bound by the legislative assembly which is a democratically elected government.
This means the Delhi government has control over all aspects of governance except land, law and order and police which is handled by the Centre.
The Constitution Bench today settled the long-drawn turf war that began when the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) marked its political debut in 2013 and went on to form a government with the Congress.
The five-judge bench unanimously observed that in 2018, the majority opinion of the Constitution Bench rendered a broad interpretation except in the present subject. The bench, led by Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud, said it was unable to agree with Justice Ashok Bhushan’s interpretation in the split verdict that followed in 2019 on appeals arising from the 2018 verdict.
LG’s powers are restricted to matters under Centre’s rule: SC
Supreme Court’s Constitution bench today reiterated that the LG’s powers are restricted to matters which fall under the Centre’s control. The LG shall exercise powers under the administrative role as entrusted by the president, but this is limited to matters which fall outside the purview of the legislative assembly. This cannot mean that the LG has administration over the entire NCTD because otherwise the purpose of having a separate elected body in Delhi will be rendered futile, the bench said.
The democratically elected government in Delhi shall have control over its officers, including those which are not recruited by it, the court said. If a democratically elected government is not allowed to control its officers and hold them to account then its responsibility towards legislature and public is diluted, the bench added.
Delhi’s special status in the Constitution - What is the case about?
The interpretation of Article 239AA in the Indian Constitution is the core issue here. Since it is the national capital, Indian Constitution accorded Delhi a special status as a Union territory with a legislative assembly.
This means, that though the state has a democratically elected government, the Centre retained certain powers with itself.
Since 1991, the Delhi government enjoyed a wide range of powers if the ruling party at the State and Centre were the same. However, this apple cart was upset when Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)—a new party at the time—marked its electoral debut in the 2013 Delhi Legislative Assembly elections and emerged as the second-largest party. The AAP managed to form a government with support from the Congress.
Though the government lasted only 49 days—followed by the President’s rule—in 2015, AAP won the elections again with an absolute majority. This time, there was one thing that was different. With BJP winning the Lok Sabha elections in 2014, now, the ruling party at the Centre and the State were different.
In July 2018, Supreme Court Constitution Bench settled the matter wherein it had ruled that the LG could not act independently without the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers.
However, in 2019, a two-judge bench delivered a split verdict on appeals and individual issues that arose from the 2018 verdict.
The turf war intensified when the Centre in 2021 passed the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (Amendment) Bill, 2021 solidifying the LG’s role as the administrative head on all matters leading to the present crop of matters.
In May 2022, the bench led by then-Chief Justice of India NV Ramana referred the matter to a larger bench for further consideration.
Earlier this year in January, the Supreme Court had reserved its verdict on the turf war between the Aam Aadmi Party-led Delhi government versus the Centrally appointed Lieutenant Governor (LG) over administrative control on transfers and posting of civil servants in the national capital.
*This story has been updated.
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