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The Supreme Court Constitution Bench in its judgment has emphatically declared that neither LG nor the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government of Delhi can be considered superior over the other. The Bench reiterated that it is necessary for harmonious and peaceful governance that “LG must work harmoniously with the state, the LG and council of ministers have to be constantly aligned.”

Facts of the case

The tussle for supremacy between Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government of NCT Delhi and Centre backed Lt. Governor (LG) Anil Baijal had its roots in mid 2014 with lodging of an FIR by AAP Supremo Arvind Kejriwal against Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL), Mukesh Ambani and others including UPA ministers M Veerappa Moily accusing them of tampering with gas prices. AAP leader Manish Sisodia claimed, “around 10 per cent of governance was left to the Delhi government. The LG misinterpreted some provisions in the Constitution and began a series of political vendetta.”

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The public and bitter battle between BJP government at Centre and AAP leaders had destabilised progress and effectively shut down many projects in Delhi. The AAP leaders once had a nine-day sit-in in front of Delhi LG’s residence in protest of transfer of bureaucrats by LG. AAP government had often claimed that LG had stalled development of NCT Delhi by “sitting on files” whereas the LG had often mentioned, “AAP submitting proposals that don’t fulfil procedures or are simply outside its powers.

The Delhi government was represented by a battery of stalwart advocates such as P. Chidambaram, Indira Jaisingh, Gopal Subramanian and Rajeev Dhavan whereas the Centre’s position was contended before the Constitution Bench by Additional Solicitor General Maninder Singh. The Constitution Bench comprised of CJI Dipak Mishra, and Justices A K Sikri, A M Khanwilkar, D Y Chandrachud and Ashok Bhushan.

Court ruling

The Supreme Court emphasised the fact that National Capital Territory of Delhi (NCTD) occupies a unique position in the constitutional scheme by virtue of the insertion of Articles 239AA and 239AB and the consequent enactment of the 1991 Act of Constitutional Amendment. The five judges unequivocally agreed that “real power lies with the elected government of Delhi.”

Reversing Delhi High Court’s decision the judges pointed out that “LG is an administrative head in the limited sense, and is not a governor. He is bound by the aid and advises of NCT government in areas other than those exempted. There is no space for absolutism or anarchy in our Constitution.”

The Supreme Court held that “the power of the LG to differ from the Delhi Government and make a reference to President was only with respect to exceptional matters under Article 239AA(4) of the Constitution of India and these only pertain to land, police and public order.” The Court further observed that “while all decisions of the elected government need to be communicated to the LG, there was no need to obtain his concurrence on all of them.”

Impact of the judgment

The verdict was welcomed by AAP leaders who were jubilant and declared “Delhi government will be able to take its own decisions and will not have to send the files to the LG for his permission on every issue.” Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said the “faith in the judiciary was restored” and hinted that his government will soon start working on all the stalled projects. The local BJP wing, lawyer Varun Jamwal commented, “I don’t see why the AAP is in such a celebratory mood. What the judgment asserts is that the Lt. Governor is bound by aid and advice of Council of Ministers, subject to the provision of Article 239 AA to refer the matter to President. He cannot act independently and has to act as per aid and advice of Council of Ministers and vice versa. It’s a balanced judgment.”

Delhi BJP spokesperson Praveen Shankar Kapoor said the verdict has “decided that Delhi is a Union Territory and the AAP should stop raising their political demand for full statehood to the city.” The Congress Party leader P. Chidambaram tweeted the verdict is a “thumping victory for representative democracy.” Also Delhi Congress president Ajay Maken said since the Apex court has now clarified about the powers in Delhi, he was hoping that “development which has been stalled, ever since the Congress was voted out of power four years ago will start again.”

Only time will tell whether Wednesday’s verdict of the Supreme Court will effectively brought to an end the continuous power struggle between Centre and State governments and help in paving the path for development and progress in our capital city.

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