Saying the Lieutenant Governor (LG) is just a “figurehead” and cannot be given authority outside his turf, the AAP government Wednesday moved the Supreme Court challenging the National Green Tribunal (NGT)’s decision to appoint Vinai Kumar Saxena as the Chairman of the High-Level Committee (HLC) to address the issue of pollution in the Yamuna River.
The committee, comprising various authorities, was formed in January. It includes the chief secretary, secretaries of the Irrigation, Forest and Environment, Agriculture, and Finance Departments of the Delhi Government, the chief executive officer of the Delhi Jal Board, the vice chairman of the Delhi Development Authority, a representative from the Union Ministry of Agriculture, the director-general of forests or his nominee from the Union Ministry of Environment, the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), and others.
In Supreme Court, the Delhi Government argued that the NGT order violates the constitutional scheme of governance in Delhi as well as the 2018 and 2023 orders of the Constitution Bench of SC. “LG, a mere figurehead of the state, appointed as its Chairman,” said the government as it requested the apex court to squash the NGT order.
In its petition, the Delhi Government has recognised the need for interdepartmental coordination to address pollution in the Yamuna and implement remedial measures, but it has strongly objected to the executive powers granted to the L-G through the NGT’s order. “These powers encroach upon areas exclusively under the competence of the elected government of Delhi,” it said.
In its appeal, the Delhi Government contended that according to the administrative structure in the national capital and the provisions of Article 239AA of the Constitution, the L-G serves as a nominal figurehead, except in matters pertaining to land, public order, and police, where the L-G exercises powers delegated by the Constitution.
The Delhi Government acknowledged the importance of a “coordinated approach”, but asserted that the language used in the NGT order sidelines the elected government. The plea explains that granting executive powers to an authority that lacks the constitutional mandate to possess them undermines the elected government’s rightful jurisdiction.
It said, “According to Article 239AA of the Constitution, the Lieutenant Governor is bound to act solely based on the aid and advice of the council of ministers, led by the Chief Minister. The government has not been entrusted with any independent decision-making power. He has to either act on the “aid and advice” of the Council of Ministers or he is bound to implement the decision taken by the President on a reference being made by him.”
In its appeal, the Delhi Government has further contended, “The NGT’s proposed remedial measures, such as utilising treated water for agriculture, horticulture, or industrial purposes, preventing waste discharge and dumping, protecting floodplain zones, maintaining dredging flow, implementing plantations, and desilting drains, require budgetary allocations that are approved by the legislative assembly. Consequently, the role of the elected government becomes crucial in overseeing these measures.”
It pointed out that the elected government is committed to addressing the issue of making the Yamuna a clean river free from pollutants and allocating the necessary funds. However, the current scheme outlined in the NGT order establishes a committee led by an “unelected figurehead, sidelining the elected and accountable government of NCTD.”
It also said there an inter-agency committee should be constituted for coordination purposes and it should be overseen by the elected head of government, the chief minister in this case.
The latest in the tussle between the LG and the AAP government comes after the latter alleged that the L-G is “taking false credit” for the redevelopment work at Bhardwaj Lake, which was done by the elected government. On his part, Saxena apprised DDA of the redevelopment work and said it happened after he issued directions last year.