Delhi, the heart of India, has always been at the centre of India's political and administrative discourse as the governance structure of Delhi has been in a long-standing tussle between the Delhi Government- National Capital Territory (NCT) and the Lieutenant Governor (LG), leading to a complex legal battle. The question of power division between the elected government and the Delhi LG was first settled by the Supreme Court in 2018, where the Court ruled in favour of the Government of Delhi.
In this context, the recent verdict of the SC holds immense significance as it impacts the governance of Delhi, not just for the current government but also for future parties elected to the state legislature.
In this article, we have provided a comprehensive case breakdown to understand the matter better.
Who is more powerful in Delhi- NCT or LG?
The relationship between the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi and the Delhi Government has been a topic of discussion for a long time. Delhi has an elected government as a Union Territory, but the Lieutenant Governor is the administrator. The interpretation of Article 239AA of the Constitution has been the central point of contention regarding the powers of the Lieutenant Governor and the Delhi Government. This issue has been addressed by both the Delhi High Court and the Supreme Court of India through multiple rulings, providing clarity on the respective powers of the Lieutenant Governor and the Delhi Government.
In 2016, the Delhi High Court interpreted Article 239 as granting the LG the authority to act independently of the Council of Ministers. As a result, the Council of Ministers is now required to obtain the LG's agreement for all administrative decisions. The Delhi Government appealed against the Delhi High Court's decision.
In the 2018 judgment, the SC overruled the HC’s decision and held that the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi must follow the advice of the Council of Ministers in matters where the Delhi Legislative Assembly can make laws.
The SC ruled that the Lieutenant Governor cannot obstruct the functioning of the Delhi Government and must act on their advice within the powers of the Legislative Assembly. However, the Lieutenant Governor can refer certain matters to the President of India.
Interesting fact to boost your knowledge 💡
Delhi is a unique case in India as it is both a state and a Union Territory (special status). The National Capital Territory of Delhi (NCT) was created by the 69th Amendment to the Constitution of India in 1991, which comprises the territories of the former Union Territory of Delhi and certain areas that were part of the neighbouring states of Haryana and Uttar Pradesh.
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Background of the Delhi Govt vs LG Case
In February 2019, a Division Bench of the Supreme Court dealt with the issue of who has the power to appoint and transfer officers of State Public Services under Entry 41, List II of the Constitution of India, Delhi Government or LG? The Court gave different opinions on the matter; Justice AK Sikri ruled that officers at or above the rank of Joint Secretary were under the authority of the Lieutenant General of Delhi, while other officers fell under the control of the Delhi Government. On the other hand, Justice Ashok Bhushan dissented, stating that "services" were completely beyond the scope of the Delhi Government's jurisdiction. Thus, the issue was referred to a three Judges Bench.
In 2022, Chief Justice NV Ramana formed a three-judge bench to resolve the dispute. Subsequently, the three-judge bench referred specific legal questions to a Constitution Bench. As a result, a five-judge bench consisting of Chief Justice DY Chandrachud, Justice MR Shah, Justice Krishna Murari, Justice Hima Kohli, and Justice PS Narasimha was formed.
The Issue in the Case
The issue before the Court was whether the Government of NCT of Delhi has legislative and executive powers in relation to 'services.'
Judgment of the Supreme Court
The Supreme Court today (11th May 2023), in a unanimous decision, held that the Government of National Capital Territory (NCT) of Delhi has both legislative and executive authority over all administrative services in the National Capital except land, police and law & order. The Court disagreed with Justice Ashok Bhushan's perspective in the 2019 split verdict, where he stated that "services" were entirely beyond the jurisdiction of the Delhi Government.
- The Court held that in a democracy, the elected government should have real administrative power. Delhi's legislative assembly embodies representative democracy, and Article 239AA should be interpreted to support it.
- The Delhi government represents a representative form of government like other states, and expanding the Union's power would violate the constitutional scheme.
- The Union's executive power in a state is limited to prevent the takeover of state governance and violate the federal system and representative democracy.
Additionally, the Court noted that the Lieutenant Governor must adhere to the Government of the National Capital Territory of Delhi (GNCTD) decisions regarding services.
However, the Constitution bench clarified that the legislative framework of Article 239AA excludes Entries 1, 2, and 18 of List II in Schedule VII (relating to public order, police, and land) from the authority of the Delhi legislative assembly. The Union of India only has executive power over these three entries.
The bench also emphasized the significance of the country's federal structure. It observed that while the Delhi government is not a full-fledged state, it has the power to legislate under List II and III, except for the entries specifically excluded. Therefore, it is crucial to ensure that the Union does not take over the governance of the state. "The principles of democracy and federalism are fundamental aspects. Federalism guarantees the preservation of diverse interests and accommodates various needs."
The Supreme Court's ruling reaffirms the power of the Delhi government in administrative services, promoting representative democracy and federalism. It recognizes the importance of elected representatives having real control and ensures a balance of power between the Union and the state.