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AAP’s narrative on imbroglio is not right, writes Shakti Sinha

There’s so much wrong, and inadequate, with this (AAP’s) narrative, which has created misapprehensions about the democratic and legal structures that underpin governance, writes former Delhi government secretary Shakti Sinha.

opinion Updated: Jun 18, 2018 12:46 IST
AAP,Kejriwal protest,IAS officers' protest Delhi
Delhi Police personnel stand guard as AAP workers march in support of Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal's dharna at LG's office, in New Delhi on Sunday.(PTI Photo)

The unedifying sight of Delhi’s chief minister and some of his ministerial colleagues on dharna in the waiting room of Delhi’s lieutenant-governor has mystified people who cannot make sense of what is happening. One of the main thrusts of the Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP) arguments has been that here is an elected representative of the people, with 67 out of 70 MLAs, being thwarted by the Centre’s representative (read L-G) who has backed what was said to be industrial action by the city government’s bureaucrats. In the bargain, the people of Delhi are being deprived of the opportunity to receive rations at their door steps.

There’s so much wrong, and inadequate, with this narrative, which has created misapprehensions about the democratic and legal structures that underpin governance.

One, the notion that just because an elected executive has a majority in a legislature, in this case an overwhelming one, it can decide and implement any policy is disturbing. All power in a republic, particularly a democratic one, is subject to the rule of law. Else elected tyranny would replace rule of law.

Two, Delhi is governed by the Constitution and the government of National Capital Territory Act 1991, in effect from the Delhi legislative assembly elections of 1993. In actual fact, ever since Delhi became a chief commissioner’s territory in 1919, there has been tinkering but essentially the government of India ran Delhi. And with the addition of the words National Capital Territory in 1993, Delhi did not become a ‘State’, not even a ‘half-State’. It remained a Union Territory, this time with a legislative assembly, just like Puducherry, a position shared in the past with Goa, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh, for example. In a UT, all executive powers are exercised by administrator, in Delhi’s case the L-G. A point upheld by the Delhi High Court in various judgements.

Three, and following from two, the function and responsibility of a minister in the Delhi government is not akin to that in government of India or in states. Delhi’s chief minister and ministers are appointed by the President of India on the recommendation of the L-G. They can best be seen as advisors to the L-G. The AAP representative stressed the point that ministers are executive head of their departments and, therefore, responsible for the functioning of the departments they are attached to. Not correct. Delhi’s Transaction of Business Rules make the secretary of the department the executive head (Rule 3). This is unlike elsewhere where it is the minister who is in charge, with the secretary responsible for compliance issues. One can argue it is undemocratic but it is certainly legal and one which exists since at least 1993. It existed prior to the 2014 Assembly elections and all contestants should have been aware of it. Former chief ministers Madan Lal Khurana and Sheila Dikshit worked in exactly same circumstances, if anything the latter had a tougher time under a L-G appointed by her party-led UPA government.

Four, are the officers on strike? And if so, is the LG supporting them? Before going into information known to me, TV channels have shown visuals of government offices functioning normally. As a former bureaucrat who has worked in Delhi and elsewhere, this collapse of the politician-government servant relationship is upsetting. Situations change, even become tense with threatened and real transfers mid- academic season, foisting of enquires, etc., but these have been individual. What has happened in Delhi is unprecedented, and if AAP is to be believed, it is a breakdown of the Constitutional order. It can be stated unequivocally that things have been rocky since AAP assumed office the first time in December 2013. The public calling of bureaucrats and accusing them of sabotage started then itself – the UPA was in power then and AAP took office backed by the Congress. The situation only deteriorated since the sweep of 2014. The immediate provocation was the unprecedented incident at the CM’s house where the chief secretary is said to have been assaulted. Since police investigations are on, it would not be appropriate to believe or disbelieve the Chief Secretary’s complaint that he was assaulted. However, the undisputed fact is that the meeting was called at short notice, for midnight. Was it a war situation? Floods? Natural disaster? Why would a meeting be called for midnight? And if it was to discus the ration door delivery issue, then why was the relevant minister not present? The net result is, according to Delhi’ bureaucrats, that they have stopped attending meetings called by ministers; all communications are through files. They say Ministers have forfeited their confidence since it is an issue of physical safety – if the head of the civil services can be assaulted in the presence of the CM, then who is safe?

Five, what of the door step delivery issue itself? The situation is that Aadhaar seeding of ration cards has shown a gap with a number of cardholders not completing the process. The claim is that these now-uncovered cases would get doorstep delivery. There are just two problems here, namely that most cases where Aadhaar seeding has not been done are in the affluent colonies of South Delhi. Does Delhi really need to hire people by the hundreds but let’s leave that aside. Reforms in governance over the past two decades has been to reduce the points of interaction between the user and government functionaries, including by outsourcing. Hence the Citizen Service Centres where one can pay utility charges, apply and receive ration cards, get copy of birth certificates, etc. The idea is to reduce rent seeking opportunities and ensure transparency. To now seek to reverse that and deliver ration to the doorstep is problematic, however humanitarian it may appear. The hiring of hundreds to do this raises doubts about the real fears of government paying for partisan political activities.

Delhi government circles, cynically, attribute the dharna to the fear that the police investigation could land up chargesheeting the top echelons of the Delhi government, but that is just speculation. Incidentally the claim of ‘strike’ has been downgraded to ‘partial strike.’

Shakti Sinha is the director of Nehru Memorial museum and library. He retired as a secretary in the Delhi government.

First Published: Jun 18, 2018 11:47 IST