Parliament passes law on greater power to Delhi LG
Parliament on Wednesday cleared controversial legal amendments that effectively hand executive powers over to Delhi’s lieutenant governor from the city-state’s legislative assembly, following angry protests and a walkout by several opposition parties.
The National Capital Territory of Delhi (Amendment) Bill, 2021, cleared with an 83-45 vote in Rajya Sabha, says that “government” in Delhi will now refer to the L-G in the context of all laws passed in Delhi, and the opinion of the L-G will be mandatory before any executive action is taken. The bill was approved by Lok Sabha on Monday.
The bill was cleared by the Upper House following several hours of heated debate, followed by a division of votes demanded by the Opposition. The Biju Janata Dal, YSR Congress and Samajwadi Party opposed the bill, but walked out in protest. The Congress walked out after the division of votes.
“I would like to tell the people of Delhi and the whole country that we have full belief in the Constitution. We did not bring this bill to create problems for the Delhi govt... I request every member to support the Bill unequivocally,” MoS G Krishna Reddy said in the Rajya Sabha.
Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal said it was a “sad day for Indian democracy”.
“RS passes GNCTD amendment bill. Sad day for Indian democracy. We will continue our struggle to restore power back to people. Whatever be the obstacles, we will continue doing good work. Work will neither stop nor slow down,” he tweeted.
Opposition parties, including the Congress, said the proposed legislation was unconstitutional and demanded it be referred to a select committee for scrutiny.
Congress MP Abhishek Manu Singhvi said it is “most unconstitutional bill” which the House has ever received and went on to say that “even the Delhi BJP should join us in opposing this”. “Make no mistake, friends, this is not about AAP, or Congress or BJP. It’s about the fundamentals of federalism...,” he said, and alleged that the current regime at Centre was engaged into “coercive federalism”.
Reddy rejected the criticism. “We’re making amendments to the Act brought in by Congress in 1991. These are not new. We are bringing these amendments to ensure that Delhi Govt functions properly,” he said.
The provisions of the bill say “before taking any executive action... the opinion of Lieutenant Governor... shall be obtained on all such matters as may be specified, by a general or special order”, and that the “legislative assembly shall not make any rule to enable itself or its committees to consider the matters of day-to-day administration or conduct inquiries”.
It also adds that “...and any of the rule made in contravention of this proviso before the commencement of the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (Amendment) Act, 2021, shall be void” -- effectively nullifying the assembly committees.
The bill was introduced in the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday, and triggered anger at the time as well. On Wednesday, amid protests by the Opposition, the House was briefly adjourned twice in the second half.
Opposing the bill, Aam Aadmi Party member Sanjay Singh said the BJP government at the Centre has brought the bill as the party lost the Delhi assembly elections twice. He said he was seeking “justice” for the 20 million people of Delhi.
BJP’s Bhupinder Yadav said the bill is important to strengthen federalism and that the L-G, “who is the rightful head of the state government will be able to take timely decision, thanks to this bill”. He criticised the AAP government for not being able to curb pollution, while claiming that Delhi’s fight against Covid-19 “was fought by the central government when the state gave up” -- sparking protests by the opposition.
After Rajya Sabha deputy chairman Harivansh asked if the motion on the bill could be adopted, the opposition sought a division of votes.
Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge announced that the Congress will stage a walkout to oppose the bill. “If you make LG the government (of Delhi state) what is the need for elections. And also there is no need then for representatives to chose chief minister. This (bill) is against the Constitution,” he said.
Members from Trinamool Congress and Shiv Sena, too, protested the legislation.
BJD’s Prasanna Acharya said the Centre should have held wider consultations. “My party does not want to be a party to this bill. We are staging a peaceful walkout,” he said. P Wilson of DMK termed the bill as “blot on the Constitution”. He cautioned that it would be stayed by courts even if it is passed by Parliament. SP’s VP Nishad and CPI-M’s Jharna Das Baidya too said the bill was unconstitutional and RJD’s Manoj Jha said his party was opposing the proposed law “on constitutional parameter and moral principles”.
PDT Achary, former secretary general of Lok Sabha, said the bill suffers from serious constitutional infirmities.
“It seeks to nullify the July 2018 decision of the constitution Bench of the Supreme Court without changing the basis of that decision. It is against the law laid down by the Supreme Court. The definition of the government can only be the elected government,” he said.