In a huge political win for the Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government with the Centre, the Supreme Court today said the Delhi government must have control over services and that the Lieutenant Governor is bound by its decision.
In a unanimous verdict, a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court said that ‘the Delhi assembly is given powers to legislate to represent the will of the people.’
In a democratic form of governance, the real power of administration must rest on the elected arm of government, said the bench, adding that the central government’s power in matters in which both the Centre and states can legislate ‘is limited to ensure that the governance is not taken over by the Central government.’
This is what the AAP-led state government had accused the Centre of doing over a long 8-year-battle.
Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal had often complained that he could not appoint ‘even a peon’ without the Centre’s approval. He alleged that bureaucrats didn’t obey his government’s orders, as they were under the purview of the Union Home Ministry.
Mr Kejriwal’s government then approached the court in 2018, arguing that its decisions were being constantly overruled by the Lieutenant Governor.
In a landmark verdict in 2018, the Supreme Court said decision-making powers under the Constitution, rested with the elected government of Delhi and that that the Lieutenant Governor had no independent jurisdiction except for issues linked to land, police and public order.
The Lieutenant Governor, the court said, has to act on the aid and advice of the elected government and cannot function as ‘an obstructionist.’
In 2019, when the Supreme Court considered various appeals, a two-judge bench gave a unanimous verdict but was split on the question of powers over services.
On the Centre’s request, the case was then referred to the Constitution Bench.
The Chief Justice said the request should have been made at the beginning and had it been done, it would have looked at the matter differently.
‘If a democratically elected government is not allowed to control its officers and hold them to account, then its responsibility towards legislature and the public is diluted. If an officer is not responding to the government, the collective responsibility is diluted. If an officer feels they are insulated from the elected government they feel they are not accountable,’ said the Chief Justice.
‘This is a historic victory for Delhi. We have been fighting for eight years. They (Centre) stalled all our work deliberately using their appointees. Both my hands were tied and I was pushed into the river, but I kept swimming, by grace of God,’ CM Kejriwal said.
Our work will now resume at 10 times the speed,’ he added, promising a ‘lean, thin, responsive, passionate and accountable’ government.
CM Kejriwal will meet the Lt Governor this evening.
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