THE Lieutenant Governor will continue to exercise primacy in matters of administration in the national capital, with the Supreme Court Friday refusing to stay the Delhi High Court’s verdict on the dispute, even as the Arvind Kejriwal-led AAP government described the L-G as an “employee of the central government” in “a master-servant relationship”.
A bench of Justices A K Sikri and N V Ramana called the matter “important which required an authoritative pronouncement” from the apex court but declined to put Kejriwal and his ministers back in the driving seat until a final decision is taken.
“No stay… we will only fix a date for final hearing,” the bench said when senior lawyers K K Venugopal and Gopal Subramanium, representing the AAP government, pointed out how ministers of an elected government had been reduced to a sheer recommendatory bunch.
While fixing the matter for detailed hearing on November 15, the court also expressed its reluctance in taking note of circulars and instructions issued by the L-G after the Delhi High Court verdict last month and said that not every order issued could become a part of the present dispute.
“You challenge those orders separately. Every day, there would be one order or another… we cannot be saying which one is right and which one is not in the course of these proceedings. We will only take note of whatever has been brought on record by you in these special leave petitions,” the bench told the senior advocates.
Agreeing to hear a batch of seven appeals moved by the AAP government against the High Court verdict, the bench sought responses from the central government, which had urged the bench to dismiss the petitions on the grounds that these were “defective”.
Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for the Centre, raised preliminary objections to admitting the appeals for hearing by citing that instead of a Chief Secretary or a Secretary, the affidavits supporting these appeals were filed by Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia.
“It is not just a question of technicality. Nobody can flout the rule only because he is a minister. Here, the affidavits are filed in violation of the rules of business. The Deputy CM is not a competent person to swear these affidavits and even if it is assumed for a minute that he is competent, they are also defective since this person (Sisodia) has verified them saying he has personal knowledge, information and belief about the contents of the petitions,” the AG said.
According to Rohatgi, the petitions could be filed only after approval from the L-G. At this, Venugopal said that it was the cause of the real problem. “The L-G is an employee of the central government. They have a master-servant relationship. He is totally vulnerable and is liable to be transferred any day. But now, it is he who has to decide everything by thwarting the elected representatives. Bureaucrats don’t listen to ministers anymore. The Deputy CM was compelled to sign these affidavits because no official was ready to do it,” he said.
Venugopal and Subramanium also referred to a government order during British rule in India when public servants were restrained from going to court without the nod from authorities. “It is the same situation here. If we have to file a petition against the L-G, do we have to go to the L-G for permission?” they said.
Subramanium, on his part, complained against a decision of the L-G to set up a panel to examine the decisions of the Delhi government which were taken without his prior permission, and fix liability.
“There cannot be a committee finding fault with the previous decisions of the elected government… on the basis of the judgment of the high court, legitimacy cannot be given to a committee to look into them. All files are with the L-G now. No such inquiry can go on when the matter is being heard by this court,” said Subramanium, but the bench declined to interfere for now.
Meanwhile, Rohatgi claimed that it has been held unequivocally by a nine-judge bench in the ‘NDMC versus State of Punjab’ case that Delhi is a Union Territory and hence they would also argue that the AAP government had no authority to file these petitions. Venugopal also asked the bench to consider referring the issue to a larger bench.
At this, the two-judge bench said it was mindful of the previous judgments and it might consider referring the issue to a larger bench on the next date of hearing. It has asked the Centre to file counter affidavits, if any, within four weeks while the AAP government will have two weeks thereafter to respond.