No decision on when new NCT law will take effect; staff await clarity
Officials and experts said they are waiting for the Gazette notification from the Union home ministry, bringing into force the national capital’s new administrative framework, and which will decide crucial questions on subjects that fall exclusively under the domain of the Lieutenant Governor, the future role of the Delhi assembly, and the definition of “day-to-day administration”.
The Union home ministry is yet to decide on the date from which the controversial Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (amendment) Act, 2021 will come into effect, senior MHA officials said on Tuesday, even as Delhi government officials outlined a number of areas where they need clarity.
There is also some concern whether the staff strength in the office of the Lieutenant Governor -- now the government, according to the law -- is adequate to handle the increased volume of paperwork as all files will now have to be sent to him.
On Sunday , March 28, the Union ministry of law and justice issued a gazette notification to the effect that the law has received the President’s assent. But a senior home ministry official said on condition of anonymity that a decision on when the law will come into effect hasn’t been made yet.
With government offices resuming on Tuesday after a holiday on account of Holi, the Delhi government, in its first reaction since, said it still is exploring its legal options.
“Certainly, the Supreme Court is one way for us to appeal against this black law. But a final decision will be taken only after our discussions with legal experts are over,” said Gopal Rai, Delhi environment minister and convener of Aam Aadmi Party’s Delhi unit, who insisted that the law went against a July 2018 Supreme Court judgement that demarcated power between the government and the L-G.
Officials in the Delhi secretariat, from where the Delhi government functions, said there is ambiguity on several aspects. “The Act makes it amply clear that all files will have to be sent to the L-G and all functionaries will have to wait for the files to return from the L-G’s office -- an additional process which could delay day-to-day administration -- but will the L-G actually ask all files to be routed through him or will there be specific topics or subjects that he would like to remain informed about? We are hoping that the ministry of home affairs will clear such doubts in its final notification,” a senior official said on condition of anonymity.
Shakti Sinha, a retired IAS officer who has served in the Delhi government, said the law actually clears all ambiguities that currently exist in Delhi’s governance, which leads to frequent confrontations between the L-G and the political executive , with bureaucrats caught in the middle.
“This law clarifies the provisions of the Constitution. Even the Supreme Court judgment of July 2018 stated that the L-G should work in the aid and advice of the council of ministers, but until now, L-G could hardly give his opinion on anything because no file except those on land, police, law and order and services used to go to him. Previous governments in Delhi have operated the same way (as prescribed by the new law) -- all files used to go to the L-G -- and yet their functioning never used to be hampered. This Act will also clarify which files will need to go to the L-G and which won’t,” he said.
The L-G’s office did not comment on the matter, but officials at Raj Niwas said on condition of anonymity that the L-G’s secretariat might need more staff.
“Right now, the team of the L-G’s office is relatively small. There is one senior official each for matters related to the police, services departments, DDA, municipal corporations and day-to-day governance. With all files coming to the L-G’s office, a restructuring may be required, which may include recruiting more officials,” said one official .
An official in the Delhi Assembly secretariat said one of the ambiguities that need clarity is the definition of “day-to-day administration”. For instance, this person added on condition of anonymity, would a committee looking into riots such as the February 2020 one, be allowed. The assembly does have such a panel.
Former secretary of the Lok Sabha and the Delhi Assembly SK Sharma said the Act will render the assembly useless. “It may well be disbanded in that case as the law now even raises questions over the validity and necessity of having Question Hour in the House,” he said.
PDT Achary, former secretary-general of Lok Sabha said the law will increase red-tape. “There will be a lot of back and forth of files. The L-G now has the power to pick up any matter and send it to the President for his opinion if he differs with the Council of ministers. A lot will also depend on how the L-G and the political executive balance their powers.”
Sinha said what the law proposes is practiced in a similar fashion in Washington DC.