The battle between Centre and state was at its peak. At the heart of the conflict was the question of who controls the capital of India. The year was 1911, and the capital was Calcutta. “It may be recalled that the desirability of excluding the seat of the Central Government from the jurisdiction of a provincial government was one of the main considerations which led to the transfer of the Imperial capital from Calcutta (to Delhi) in 1912,” says the 1955 State Reorganisation Committee (SRC) report, which led to reorganisation of boundaries and formation of 16 states and three Union Territories, including Delhi.
The then Secretary for the State of India, Robert Crewe-Milnes, wrote, “The arrangement, as you frankly describe it, is a bad one for both governments. The Viceroy is inevitably faced by this dilemma — that either he must become the Governor of Bengal, in a unique sense, or he must consent to be saddled with public opinion both in India and at home with direct liability for acts of administration or policy over which he only exercises in fact the general control of a supreme government.
The local government, on the other hand, necessarily suffers from losing some part of the sense of responsibility rightly attaching to it as to other similar administrations.” The capital was shifted to Delhi, envisioned by Lord Hardinge in 1911 as a separate and independent capital of a great central government.
Over a century later, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and three of his ministers are on a sit-in protest at the L-G’s office — with statehood among their key demands. Under the current form of governance, Delhi has an elected government with 70 MLAs. But the highest authority, as held by the Delhi High Court in 2016, is the Centre-appointed Lieutenant Governor, who has control over areas such as Law and Order, Land, and Services.
Over the past two decades, every party that has come to power has promised to make statehood a reality. Consider this:
BJP: On board till 2014
Former CM Sahib Singh Verma’s administration prepared a draft bill for full statehood in 1998. The BJP manifesto for the 1999 Lok Sabha polls also promised it. The State of Delhi Bill, 2003, was tabled in Lok Sabha the same year by the then Deputy PM L K Advani. The Bill was forwarded to a standing committee of Home Affairs under the chairmanship of Pranab Mukherjee, which endorsed nearly all clauses of the proposed legislation.
Union Minister Vijay Goel also endorsed the demand for full statehood in the BJP’s national executive in 2013 in Goa. The party’s campaign in the 2013 polls reiterated the promise, with its CM candidate for Delhi Harsh Vardhan — now a Union Minister — bringing it up more than once during media interactions. The promise also figured in BJP’s Delhi-specific manifesto for the 2014 general elections. But, in a first, it had no mention in BJP’s manifesto for the 2015 Assembly polls.
Congress: Ambiguous on issue
The Congress has had a more cautious stance. In 1947, the Pattabhi Sitaramayya Committee made recommendations, including the need for Delhi to have an L-G as well as a legislature with limited powers. But many, including chairman of the drafting committee of the Constitution B R Ambedkar and Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, differed with the recommendations.
Nehru observed: “Ever since the committee was appointed the world has changed; India has changed and Delhi has changed vitally.” Delhi was made a part C state (Union Territory). Despite persistent demands from the Congress’s local leadership, its Central leaders never took a stand in this regard.
Towards the end of her tenure as Delhi’s CM in 2013, Sheila Dikshit conceded that had Delhi been a full state, the “city would have witnessed better development had my government not been shackled by the present governance structure of Delhi characterised by a multiplicity of agencies and authorities”. It was only in its 2015 manifesto, when the party was staring at a rout, that the Congress included the demand for statehood. “Delhi will become a full-fledged state; its residents will have cheap electricity and better security. Full statehood is essential for effective governance without any shackles,” the party said.
Delhi Pradesh Congress Committee chief Ajay Maken, who has also served as a union minister, however, said any party in power would demand statehood. “But Delhi is not just another state. It is the capital and has reaped the benefits for several years. Every party that has come to power has demanded statehood, but that is a political pitch. When I was in the union government, it became very clear that statehood for Delhi is impossible and rightly so,” said Maken.
AAP: Seeking control
AAP, in its 2015 Assembly poll manifesto, said that on coming to power, it will act within the constitutional framework, using its “moral and political authority” to push for full statehood.
It said this will ensure that institutions such as DDA, MCD and Delhi Police will be accountable to the elected government: “This way land will be made available for the common man, there will be greater synchronisation and shared purpose among civic services with regard to service delivery, and law and order machinery will be accountable to the citizens.”
A year after storming to power, the party released a draft bill on full statehood — The State of Delhi Bill, 2016, which seeks to bring land, police, civic bodies and bureaucracy under jurisdiction of the elected government. “The Governor will act on the aid and advise of the Council of Ministers, as provided in Article 163 of the Constitution,” says the Bill.
The proposed provision marks a significant departure from the prevailing arrangements under Articles 239 AA and 239 AB introduced by the 69th amendment to the Constitution, which came into force on January 31, 1992.
The articles did provide for a Legislative Assembly and Council of Ministers for Delhi, but kept land, police and public order out of the control of the elected government. “There shall be a Council of Ministers consisting of not more than ten percent of the total number of members in the Assembly, with the CM at the head to aid and advise the L-G in the exercise to his functions in relation to matters with respect to which the Assembly has power to make laws, except in so far as he is, by or under any law, required to act in his discretion,” says Article 239AA(4).
But a power tussle erupted right after AAP took office. The Ministry of Home Affairs, through a notification in early 2015, empowered the L-G to decide on matters of services or transfer, and appointment of bureaucrats.
The Delhi government challenged the notification in the Delhi High Court. On August 4, 2016, the government received a setback with the court upholding the primacy of the L-G as Delhi’s administrator. “The contention of the Delhi government that the L-G is bound to act only on the aid and advice of the council of ministers… is without substance and cannot be accepted,” ruled the HC.
The government challenged this in the Supreme Court, which set up a Constitution Bench to decide the matter. Hearings concluded in December 2017. The SC is expected to deliver its ruling after the summer break. Senior advocate Gopal Subramanium, appearing for the AAP government, told the bench that the one who makes the law must have the power to execute it. The Centre has gone with the decades-old position — that granting Delhi these powers would not be in the interest of national security and interests, since it is not just a UT but also the capital.
Speaking to The Indian Express on the issue, Deputy CM Manish Sisodia said, “Statehood was part of our 2015 manifesto and unlike the BJP or the Congress, we will stand by every single word… With each passing month, the Centre has been impinging on our powers to the extent that the current Delhi government looks and operates very differently from say the Sheila Dikshit government.
For instance, the Delhi government always had powers to appoint and transfer officers, but the Centre took those away in May 2015. The strike by IAS officers is just the latest in the series of such attacks by the Centre to render the mandate given by the people of Delhi… meaningless. It is in this context that we have intensified our demand for full statehood.
The SC judgment is not related to statehood for Delhi, and will not address crucial functions such as land and police that do not come under the Delhi government.” He added that “people of Delhi will benefit tremendously if Delhi were to be declared a full state”. “Today, Delhi contributes about Rs 1.3 lakh crore in direct taxes to the Centre and receives just Rs 325 crore as Central grant. If Delhi were to be a full state, the Centre will be bound to make transfers as per recommendations of Union Finance Commissions, which would mean at least Rs 50,000 crore being channelled back for Delhi’s development,” said Sisodia.
But a senior government official countered that Delhi has constantly reaped the benefits of being the capital. The 1982 Asian Games and the 2010 Commonwealth Games brought infrastructure that other states can only dream of. “This happened because Delhi was the capital. The prestige is such that when there is a water crisis, the Centre intervenes and makes sure neighbours help. If Delhi becomes a state, this will no longer be the case,” said the official.
Constitutional expert Subhash Kashyap said, “The constitutional position is clear. Delhi is a Union Territory, not a state. For it to be granted statehood, the Parliament will have to pass a constitutional amendment. The L-G is the real administrator of Delhi under the Constitution. Even in the US, Washington DC is not a state. Keeping in mind whatever has happened in Delhi over the past week, personally I feel it has become impossible for any government to concede to the demand for full statehood. Every party has asked for it, it has never been granted. Now, it seems impossible.”
In a paper published by the Observer Research Foundation, Niranjan Sahoo, argues that instead of chasing statehood, Delhi should fight for greater autonomy in areas such as land, law and order, services and have a hand in running the local municipal bodies, which are controlled by the Centre.
Offering what it calls a solution to national security concerns, the AAP government has said that if Delhi is given statehood, the area under New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) could still be under direct control of the Centre. “Police, water and power supply, all administration of this area can be independent. The rest of Delhi should be treated as a complete state,” said AAP’s Political Affairs Committee member Atishi Marlena.
The NDMC area is where the Parliament, embassies, central government housing colonies and Central Secretariat are located. The body is not elected but has elected representatives as members. The Council has been in existence in some form or the other since 1916, when it was called the Raisina Municipal Committee.
The idea is not new. The 1955 SRC report says, “It has… been suggested that New Delhi should be regarded as the national capital over which the union government might have full control. The real issue, therefore, so far as the future of Delhi is concerned is whether a line of demarcation should be drawn between New Delhi and Old Delhi and the two units be placed under two separate administrations.”
The report, however, says this was found “impossible” by the government in 1912 as Old Delhi’s interests were intertwined with those of New Delhi. Many AAP leaders believe the statehood Bill introduced by Advani and partially endorsed by the House panel headed by Mukherjee can be a model to settle the issue.
But Kejriwal, it is learnt, is not too enthused with its provisions and believes it vests too much control with the Centre.
(With inputs from Aniruddha Ghosal)