Among the reasons for divesting Delhi cabinet minister Kapil Mishra of the law, justice and legislative affairs portfolio were complaints regarding the functioning of the government in the High Court and dissent from officials within the department.
On Monday, Mishra was divested of the portfolio by Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. It has now been handed over to Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia.
It is learnt that complaints of the law department’s handling of government issues in the High Court had been conveyed to the upper echelons of the ruling AAP, including Kejriwal.
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According to sources, “The decision to give the department to a senior minister who could take strong and precise action, was therefore taken”.
Senior officials said that complaints included non-appearance of government lawyers before HC benches and lack of information with the government lawyers due to non-briefing by concerned department officials. “Work of the Delhi government was not being properly handled,” said another senior official.
The claim is also borne out by the fact that the Delhi cabinet, on Tuesday, increased the number of additional standing counsels for civil matters and appointed a “senior standing counsel” for civil matters in the High Court.
Sources in the party also maintained that it was, in fact, Mishra who had “asked” to be relieved of the work of the law department as he “did not have a law degree”, and that the issues for consideration were “too technical”.
It is also learnt that the party —already at loggerheads with the central government and Lieutenant Governor Najeeb Jung over decision-making powers in the national capital — needed a minister who could grasp legal issues and engage with senior advocates.
Recently, the party has sought legal advice from former solicitor-general Gopal Subramanium and former additional solicitor-general, Indira Jaising.
Mishra was also at the centre of the storm in July over the government’s decision to revise circle rates, particularly after senior officials in his department insisted that the decision be cleared by the Lt-Governor.
Since it first came to power in 2014, the AAP has struggled with the law portfolio. Last year, then Law Minister Somnath Bharti courted controversy after a midnight raid on African residents in Khirki Extension. In 2015, Jitender Tomar was sacked after he was arrested for allegedly obtaining and submitting fake degrees in the run up to the assembly elections in January.