Delhi turf war: Why we need to change the way we govern

  • Amita Singh
  • Updated: Jun 09, 2015 12:09 IST

In the battle between Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal and lieutenant governor Najeeb Jung, administrative fatigue is surfacing. Jung’s statement, ‘May God forgive Kejriwal’, suggests a state of bureaucratic despondency against the system of governance.

Administratively Delhi is unique. The present feud remained veiled behind the single-party dominant system. Liberalisation and subsequent experiments in outsourcing administration to NGOs at local levels reinstated them as the ‘mai-baap’ of the masses.

The innovative models of Bhagidari and Mission Convergence generated a vibrant participatory democracy for Delhi but as the reigns slipped from the Congress to AAP, the backstage performers found themselves on stage without partnership, capacity and an understanding of the law.

Jung is viewed as an equivalent of a governor posted to fulfil the Centre’s agenda. Originally, Delhi had been a Union Territory (UT) under the special provisions for the administration of Union territories under Article 239 of the Constitution. The governor could exercise his functions, independent of his council of ministers.

The Constitution (69th Amendment) Act 1991 inserted Article 239-AA bringing about special provisions with respect to Delhi. Under this, the section on ‘aid and advice’ is over-read in favour of the CM but the administrative authority and the special powers of the LG were overlooked.

Delhi is a peculiar administrative experiment but not without precedents across the world. Washington DC has the status of a ‘federal district’.

The federal government controls everything in the district and the existence of the municipal legislature is only for local purposes. These federal powers are exercised through the secretary appointed by the federal government. Even in countries with a unitary form of government, the system of governance is only slightly different. The London mayor is expected to act in aid of the London Assembly.

The Delhi circus provides an opportunity to the department of administrative reforms and public grievances to revisit over 15 reports of the 2nd Administrative Reforms Commission (ARC). There are two accepted reasons for the politicisation of the bureaucracy.

First, the intention to create ‘patronage bureaucracy’ where administrative partners are rewarded for the help they extended during their campaigns. Second, an ambition to run businesses and public-private contracts through a coterie of decision-makers. Either case is in defiance of the principle of bureaucratic neutrality.

There have been appeals to insulate the civil services from external pressures. We also have ARC reports that have indicated that any step towards good governance actually passes through serious and committed reforms in key areas of ethics, administrative neutrality and an independent regulator for postings and transfers of administrators.

As new budding models of participatory democracy emerge, such as that of AAP, one could start thinking on these lines as well.

(Amita Singh is professor of administrative reforms, Centre for the Study of Law and Governance, Jawaharlal Nehru University. The views expressed are personal.)

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