AAP govt vs Centre: Delhi L-G can’t sit on files, must act in time, says SC
The Supreme Court said on Thursday that the Constitution “prima facie” gives primacy to the lieutenant governor in the affairs of Delhi, but observed that the L-G cannot sit on files sent for approval by an elected government.
A five-judge Constitution bench is hearing a clutch of petitions by the Delhi government against a high court decision that declared the L-G, who reports to the Centre, the administrative head of the national capital.
The apex court seemed to agree with this view and said that “land, police, and public order” are not under the purview of the Delhi government.
Still, “the L-G cannot stultify an executive decision by sitting over a file. He must exercise his power in a reasonable time,” the bench headed by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra observed.
In case of differences with the ministers, he should refer the matter to the President and must spell out the reasons, it said.
The L-G’s office declined comment, saying the matter was in court. At the Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP) national council meeting on Thursday afternoon, chief minister Arvind Kejriwal accused the Centre of trying to hamper the working of his government through the L-G.
“I can’t even get my peon appointed. But we will not give up. We will continue the fight,” the AAP leader said, adding the Centre had left his government powerless.
Routing of the files is one of the many flashpoints between the Kejriwal government and the BJP-led Centre. Ever since the AAP came to power in 2015, the two sides have disagreed on almost everything – power tariffs, transfers, corruption probes and appointments.
The power struggle is rooted in Delhi’s unique position as a union territory functioning as the Capital, with the state government having no say in matters of police, public order and land, which are under the control of the L-G.
Leading a panel of lawyers representing the Kejriwal government, senior advocate Gopal Subramanium said the Centre -- through L-G Anil Baijal -- had paralysed its executive functions.
The L-G had created a situation where no bureaucrat was obeying directions of Kejriwal and his ministers, he said.
“Ministers have to literally fall on the feet of bureaucrats to get the work done. This is not what was intended under Article 239 (AA),” the former solicitor general said.
Included in the Constitution in 1991, the article gave Delhi an assembly and an elected government and its unique status.
“Land, police and public order isn’t under you,” the bench headed by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra told the Delhi government’s counsel. “Prima facie it appears that it [Article 239 (AA)] gives more power to lieutenant governor unlike other union territories. The L-G in Delhi has the primacy under the Constitution.”
Subramanium pointed out that files on teachers’ appointments, repair of potholes and empanelment of lawyers were awaiting L-G’s clearance even though they were well within the purview of the state government.
He said an elected government was entitled to make schemes to execute its responsibilities. “But can an executive function effectively if in day-to-day executive functioning the L-G says your decisions cannot be implemented unless I concur?” he asked.
The hearing in the case will continue on November 7. The court is yet to hear the Centre’s arguments.
The Supreme Court had on February 15 referred to the Constitution bench the pleas filed by the AAP government against the high court verdict that held that Delhi was not a state and the LG was its administrative head.