New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Wednesday unanimously ruled that Delhi’s Lt Governor was constitutionally bound by the “aid and advice” of the elected government — a decision hailed by the ruling AAP as historic and which ends a bitter power tussle over the capital’s administrative control and governance.
A five-judge constitution bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra said the real powers of governance in Delhi rested with its elected representatives and their opinion and decisions ought to be respected.
The ruling overturned an earlier Delhi High Court verdict which had declared the Lt Governor as the head of the Delhi administration, triggering an ugly war between the Centre and the Aam Aadmi Party.
The court said the Lt. Governor, appointed by the central government, was bound by the aid and advice of the Ministers of the city government in all areas except land, police and public order or where he refers the matter to the President citing difference of opinion.
“Real authority to take decisions lie in the elected government. This is the meaning of ‘aid and advice’. Titular head has to act in accordance with aid and advice,” Justice D.Y. Chandrachud observed.
Chief Justice Misra, also speaking for Justice A.K. Sikri and Justice A.M. Khanwilkar, wrote that the Lt. Governor was not vested with any independent decision-making powers and cannot act in a “mechanical manner without due application of mind” in referring decisions of the government citing differences.
Every “trivial difference of opinion” between the Lt Governor and the city government, he said, could not be referred to President for a decision.
“In this context, even in case of differences of opinion, the Lt Governor and the NCT government should act with constitutional morality and trust for each other.”
Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, who has been leading the campaign seeking more powers for his government, hailed the court verdict as “a big victory for the people of Delhi, a big victory for democracy”.
His deputy Manish Sisodia called the ruling a “landmark judgement” that has ensured that the Delhi government “will not have to send their files to Lt Governor for approval.
“Now work will not be stalled. Powers are restored back to Delhi. This verdict stands against the whimsicality of the LG. I thank the Supreme Court.”
And as celebrations erupted at the AAP office, Sisodia said that the power to transfer and post officers would now on rest with the Delhi government.
But the court verdict carried a message for Kejriwal and his AAP as well.
The court reminded the elected representatives about constitutional obligations and the responsibility to ensure the welfare of the people.
“There is no room for absolutism. There is no space for anarchy. Sometimes it is argued, though in a different context, that one can be a ‘rational anarchist’, but the said term has no entry in the field of constitutional governance and rule of law,” the court ruled.
Kejriwal and his cabinet have had constant run-ins with Lt Governors — Najeeb Jung earlier and his successor Anil Baijal — who were accused of stalling key policy decisions of the city government.
The dispute stems out of the status of Delhi. The city is a Union Territory and not a full state. As a result, some areas are under the control of the central government represented by the Lt. Governor.
But the AAP argued that the Lt Governor, under pressure from the Modi government, kept on nullifying the city government’s decisions, resulting in Kejriwal and three of his ministers launch a sit-in at Baijal’s office-cum-residence last month for eight days. Amid the crisis, Chief Ministers of four non-BJP ruled states backed Kejriwal.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), routed by the AAP in the February 2015 Assembly election and which has only four members in the 70-seat Assembly, dismissed any notion that the court ruling was a victory for “anarchist” Kejriwal.
“We have seen Kejriwal raising politics of dharna and anarchy. He has never tried to work harmoniously. The Supreme Court has dealt a severe blow to Kejriwal. He should now leave the politics of anarchy and move towards governance,” BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra said.
Delhi Congress leader Sharmishtha Mukherjee said Kejriwal “must be the most worried man today” because there would be “no one to blame and pass the buck any more”.
Former Chief Minister and Congress leader Sheila Dikshit said the Supreme Court ruling was a mere reiteration of the fact that the Delhi government’s powers cannot be compared with other states.
“But whether a subject comes under the Lt Governor or the city government, Delhi will suffer if they do not work together or are in conflict. Even the Congress was in power in Delhi for 15 years and never had a conflict (with Lt Governor). In cases of conflict, we used to resolve it amongst ourselves. Some times the government and some times the LG used to step back,” she said.
But CPI-M said: “This is a victory of federalism.”