Odd couple

For Delhi’s sake, its chief minister and lieutenant-governor need to stop making a spectacle of their differences.

By: Express News Service | Published: May 5, 2015 12:00 am

The growing friction between Delhi’s lieutenant-governor and its chief minister shines unflattering light on both offices. The pull and tug over jurisdiction could even imperil governance in the state. The latest is the LG’s office writing to the CM that as per the Constitution, “the role of the chief minister and the council of ministers is to aid and advise the lt-governor where the latter is entitled to act solely on his discretion and all files relating to matters for which legislative assembly can make law should come to the lt-governor for final approval”. This “clarification” is in response to the CM asking departments “not to bother the LG” by sending him files. Najeeb Jung and Arvind Kejriwal need to urgently end this war of letters and devise a working relationship keeping in mind the unique nature of Delhi’s power-sharing arrangement.

The separation of powers envisaged in the Constitution between Delhi’s LG, the Centre’s representative, and the CM assigns an executive role for the former. This owes to Delhi’s position as the national capital and the seat of the Union government. Even so, Kejriwal makes a strong argument when he points to the longstanding anomaly of the unelected LG possessing powers to override the elected CM. Redress is possible, however, only if the laws are amended. That calls for a larger political consensus, which can emerge only through negotiation between political parties, the state government and the Centre. Meanwhile, a CM-LG face-off will only bring on a public spectacle. Moreover, if government officials, in the state and at the Centre, are forced to take sides, it would impact administration.

While making the case for specific changes in law to empower the state government — for instance, to provide a bigger role for it in the Delhi Development Authority — the CM should focus on the sectors under his watch. From health and sanitation to education and public transport, there are numerous areas where the state government has complete control and can intervene and make a difference. At the same time, the LG, though entrusted by the Constitution and other laws to be the final authority for the approval of all laws passed by the Delhi assembly, must avoid the appearance of overreach. He must show grace in acknowledging the primacy of elected representatives in policymaking and recognise their desire — driven also by electoral imperatives — to be seen as the face of governance. There is no reason why two experienced administrators cannot evolve a mature relationship and resolve their differences across the table. Certainly, Delhi’s citizens would gain if they did so.

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