Updated: March 25, 2021 2:21:20 am
Amid uproar and a walkout by major opposition parties, Rajya Sabha on Wednesday evening cleared a Bill to give the Lieutenant Governor significantly greater power in Delhi. The Bill was passed by Lok Sabha on Monday.
Nearly all opposition parties opposed the Bill, stating that it went against the Constitution and cooperative federalism.
As MoS Home G Kishan Reddy read out the reasons for The Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (Amendment) Bill, 2021, opposition members drowned him out with chanting.
The Congress’s Abhishek Manu Singhvi delayed speaking, requesting the chair to put the House in order. “Sir, I want to speak but I can’t hear myself. How can I speak?” Singhvi described the Bill as a “most unconstitutional Bill” that the House had ever considered, and said “even the Delhi BJP should join us in opposing this”.
“Make no mistake friends, this is not about AAP, or Congress or BJP. It’s about the fundamentals of federalism…,” he said, and alleged the Centre of “coercive federalism”.
RS passes GNCTD amendment Bill. Sad day for Indian democracy
We will continue our struggle to restore power back to people.
Whatever be the obstacles, we will continue doing good work. Work will neither stop nor slow down.
Leader of Opposition Mallikarjun Kharge said, “This Bill is to take the rights from the representatives of the people and to put the LG in charge. What is the point of elections if you are making the LG the leader?”
Defending the Bill, Reddy said the amendments have been brought to address certain ambiguities in the 1991 law and rejected accusations that it intended to take away the powers of the elected government. The amendments would lead to transparency and clarity in governance in Delhi, and improve public accountability. There was no political angle, and the amendments were on “technical” grounds alone, he said.
“The proposed Bill does not curtail in any manner any of the powers enjoyed by the government of NCT Delhi which are already provided in the Constitution,” he said.
According to the statement of objects and reasons of the Bill, it has been brought to give effect to the interpretation of the Supreme Court which had ruled that the city government need not obtain the Lieutenant Governor’s “concurrence” of every issue of day-to-day governance.
“The said Bill will promote harmonious relations between the legislature and the executive, and further define the responsibilities of the elected government and the L-G, in line with the constitutional scheme of governance of the National Capital Territory of Delhi, as interpreted by the Supreme Court,” the statement of objects said.
“I want to assure the people of Delhi that whatever powers are given, the Modi government through this amendment Bill will not take away any powers,” Reddy said.
“Modi doesn’t want to take the rights of Delhi. I want Delhi people to believe me. There is not a single line against the Constitution. The proposed Bill does not curtail any of the powers of the Government of NCT Delhi which is already provided by the Constitution of India. The Bill is not amending the Constitution. The Bill is in tune with Supreme Court judgments… We have a responsibility to give this Act clarity,” he said.
AAP’s Sanjay Singh alleged the Bill had been brought by the BJP because it had lost Assembly elections twice. “I am seeking justice for two crore citizens of Delhi and for 130 crore Indians. I am standing here to save the Constitution of India,” he said.
A division was sought by the opposition. During voting, 83 members were in favour while 45 opposed the Bill. Just before the passage of the Bill, the Congress too walked out.
Minutes after the Bill was passed by Rajya Sabha, Delhi Chief Minister and AAP supremo Arvind Kejriwal said it was a “sad day for Indian democracy”. According to sources, the government is exploring legal remedies and is expected to approach the Supreme Court against the amendments.
“RS passes GNCTD amendment Bill. Sad day for Indian democracy. We will continue our struggle to restore power back to people. Whatever be the obstacles, we will continue doing good work. Work will neither stop nor slow down,” Kejriwal tweeted.
The AAP government has had a tumultuous relationship with the Centre and the nominated L-G since it came to power with 67 out of 70 seats in 2015. Till 2018, there were constant battles between the two offices — the CM and the L-G — over matters of governance. It was after the SC judgment of 2018 that the Delhi government got a freer hand, which also reflected in policies such as free power (upto 200 units), free bus rides for women, and installation of CCTV cameras.
According to senior party leaders, with the amendments in place, the elected government will have less powers than the municipal corporations since any decision made by it can be turned down by the L-G.
Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia said: “Today is a black day for democracy. The rights of a government elected by the people of Delhi have been snatched and handed over to the L-G. The irony is that the Parliament, which is a temple of democracy, was chosen for its murder. The people of Delhi will fight against this dictatorship,” he tweeted.