In new pecking order, Delhi L-G to retain law, land
After the Union home ministry notified the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (GNCTD) (Amendment) Act, 2021 on Wednesday, the office of Delhi Lieutenant Governor (L-G) issued an order asking the Delhi government to seek opinion of the L-G before the Cabinet or any of its minister takes any executive action with regard to matters related to land, police, law and order, subordinate legislations, granting of parole, Delhi finance commission, establishment or re-constitution of statutory bodies and matters specified under Rule 23 of the ‘Transaction of Business of the GNCTD Rules, 1993’.
The new law passed on by Parliament on March 24 gives sweeping powers to Delhi’s Lieutenant Governor for running day-to-day business of the Capital and almost takes away administrative control from the chief minister Arvind Kejriwal-led government.
Senior officials also said that the notification is going to set new protocols for the Delhi Cabinet and all bureaucrats as the ‘Transaction of Business of the GNCTD Rules, 1993’ are going to be amended for the first time in nearly 20 years.
The order issued by the L-G office specified in three points as to which areas the Delhi Cabinet and individual ministers will have to seek prior opinion of L-G Anil Baijal. None of the subjects, however, seemed to be excessively out of the areas over which the L-G already has control.
“.... the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi, hereby specifies the following matters for obtaining opinion of the L-G....before taking any executive action in pursuance of the decision of the Council of ministers or a minister..” read the order.
“The matters falling under any law, made by the Parliament or extended to the national Capital by the Central government, with respect to any matter enumerated in the state list or concurrent list of the seventh schedule of the Constitution,” it stated.
The Delhi government did not comment on the matter, but the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) said it “really hoped” that the Central government would have waited at least till the current wave of Covid-19 abated to enforce the Act.
In a statement, the AAP said, “Delhi is in the midst of the Covid-19 crisis and by notifying this right in the middle of the second wave, it can lead to a lot of chaos. This could definitely adversely affect Covid management in the national Capital.”
“Under the leadership of CM Kejriwal, we are working on every possible aspect to tackle the second wave of Covid. The Central government and the Delhi government are working together. But such a notification will bring a lot of confusion and when the work is going on war footing the last thing people can expect is chaos and confusion in the administration,” the AAP said.
On Wednesday, even as the Union ministry of home affairs (MHA) notified the amended GNCTD Act, Delhi government officials said they were too busy in Covid-19 management to find out about the intricacies of the new law.
“Now is not the time for all this. From the Lieutenant Governor (L-G) to the chief minister, everyone is closely monitoring aspects such as oxygen supply to hospitals, Covid-19 deaths, augmentation of beds and so on. Bureaucrats cannot afford to be caught up in politics during such a crisis, everyone knows that. So, what the government is doing to contain Covid is a collective effort and that is what Delhi needs right now,” said one of the top officials of the Delhi government, wishing not to be named.
NO IMMEDIATE CHANGES
While L-G Anil Baijal’s office did not comment on the matter, a senior official in his office said nothing can change on the ground until a fresh set of transaction of business rules (TBR) is issued by the MHA.
“For a start, the L-G has scheduled a Covid-19 review meeting tomorrow (Thursday). But, it is not because of this GNCTD Act. He has been holding such meetings from time to time. With regard to the GNCTD Act and what administrative changes it could bring, there is not much that can happen at the moment because there is lack of clarity on certain procedures and subjects where the L-G can have direct control. The MHA is likely to issue amended TBR in a few days after which things would be clearer,” the official said.
The key issues which the L-G wants to look into are the low testing numbers, reducing the waiting time at crematoriums and decreasing case fatalities, the official added.
However, a section of officers in the Delhi government said the law has already created doubt among several officials with regard to various orders being issued every day to curb the spread of Covid-19 in the city and manage patients better. But they added that an immediate change in the plans was unlikely.
“The Delhi Disaster Management Authority (DDMA) anyway has the L-G as its chairperson, so a major policy or strategy shift in terms of Delhi’s Covid response system is unlikely to happen as the Central government, to whom the L-G reports, is already providing help. More importantly, the Delhi high court is directly monitoring the situation and issuing orders from day to day in this regard,” said a second government official.
The current Covid wave has overwhelmed Delhi’s heath care infrastructure with hospitals sending out SOS messages while running out of medical oxygen and almost all beds taken up across hospitals. According to government’s Corona app data, only 18 ICU beds were available in the city at 9pm on Wednesday.
A few district officials wondered whether the new law would mean DMs and SDMs now have to send all their orders such as setting up new Covid care facilities by attaching hotels or increasing vaccination.
“It is not like that. Only major decisions such as those taken by the Delhi Cabinet led by Kejriwal or individually by the ministers will have to be sent to the L-G, in all likelihood. Otherwise, the L-G’s office, which does not have so much staff, will be inundated with files and getting them back to get the schemes or project moving could take time,” the second official explained.
He said the impact of the law on the day to day administration can be gauged only in about a week or two. “There could be increased friction between the legislature, the executive, and the Union government. Delhi has seven ministers, including Kejriwal, and each of them issue dozens of orders/directives daily. The back-and-forth of files will only delay a lot of projects,” the official said.
Constitution expert and former secretary of the Lok Sabha and the Delhi assembly SK Sharma said the biggest casualty of the Act is going to be the assembly. “It may well be disbanded in that case as the law now even raises questions over the validity and necessity of having the Question hour in the House. The law will impact the assembly in more way than just taking away the rights of the committees set up by the House,” he said.
PDT Achary, former secretary-general of Lok Sabha said Under Art.239AA of the constitution and as per the interpretation given by the Supreme Court the government means the L-G aided and advised by the Council of ministers.
“It simply means the executive power is vested in the Council of ministers. This being so the definition contained in the new Act, namely, government means the L-G has no special significance. The Act cannot override the constitution and also the interpretation of law made by the Supreme Court. The executive power is vested in the elected government and therefore, the definition of government given in the Amendment Act has no special significance. The same shall remain in terms of accountability as well,” said Achary.
A senior Delhi government official, on condition of anonymity, said the law effectively implies that most of the House panels will become void, and the assembly rules from which these committees have been formed, will also be void. “The public accounts committee, which looks into the accounts of the government and the budgetary allocations, might also go in such a case,” the official said.