In a setback to the AAP government’s campaign for “full statehood” to Delhi, the Delhi High Court Thursday ruled that the Capital “continues to be a Union Territory” under the administrative control of the Lt Governor and “does not acquire the status of a State”.
The bench of Chief Justice G Rohini and Justice Jayant Nath held the Arvind Kejriwal government’s decisions to probe alleged irregularities in the functioning of the Delhi and District Cricket Association (DDCA) and the CNG fitness scam as “illegal” since these orders were issued “without seeking the views/concurrence” of the Lt Governor.
Other decisions that have been set aside include appointment of nominee directors to the three power distribution companies, directions to electricity regulator DERC to pay compensation for disruption of power supply, revision of circle rates and stamp duty.
The bench, which rejected almost all contentions of the Delhi government, however, agreed with its submission that the Lt Governor will have to act on its aid and advice in the appointment of special public prosecutors.
In first remarks, the AAP government said it will challenge the High Court order. Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia said: “It is a battle between the selected and the elected… We respect the decision of the Delhi High Court and I understand that the court arrived at its decision after examining various aspects of the matter. But we disagree with the view of the court. We will be moving the Supreme Court.”
Lt Governor Najeeb Jung, who has had a running battle with the AAP government on a range of jurisdictional issues, said: “This is nobody’s victory. Arvind Kejriwal and Najeeb Jung don’t exist. It is not that we will give sweets to each other today. These are things that the High Court had clarified today.”
WATCH VIDEO: Setback For Arvind Kejriwal In Delhi High Court
In its 194-page order, the bench said it was of “the considered view that it is mandatory under the Constitutional scheme to communicate the decision of the Council of Ministers to the Lt Governor even in relation to the matters in respect of which power to make laws has been conferred on the Legislative Assembly of NCTD and an order thereon can be issued only where the Lt Governor does not take a different view”.
The High Court set aside objections raised by the AAP government over the appointment and transfer of senior officials, which had been a flashpoint between Kejriwal and Jung.
“Though a specific constitutional provision has been inserted by the Constitution (69th Amendment) Act, 1991 to deal with the administration of the National Capital Territory of Delhi, it continues to be a Union Territory and does not acquire the status of a State,” the bench said.
The Delhi government had challenged the notification issued by the Union Home Ministry on May 21, 2015, which said that the Lt Governor could take all decisions with regard to ‘Services’ in Delhi. The notification had also directed that the Anti-Corruption Branch could not take up investigation of cases against employees of Central government services.
The Delhi government, through senior advocate Dayan Krishnan, had argued that Article 239AA of the Constitution had not excluded ‘Services’ from the list of subjects under the authority of the Delhi Legislative Assembly, and that the Central government could not modify the powers of the Assembly through a notification.
The High Court, however, accepted arguments by Additional Solicitor General Sanjay Jain who said that the Constitution provided “only for two types of services” — Central services and State services.
“All services under NCT of Delhi which is a Union Territory are governed by Entry 70 of List I alone and thus fall beyond the legislative competence of the Legislative Assembly of NCT of Delhi. The executive power being co-extensive with the legislative power, it goes without saying that the Government of NCT of Delhi cannot claim any executive power in relation to matters with respect to ‘services’,” the bench said.
The High Court accepted the view of the Central government that the ACB did not have the jurisdiction to take up cases against Central government officials. Jurisdiction of the ACB, it said, was “limited to curbing corruption in various departments of the Delhi administration as well as other statutory bodies over which the Lt Governor exercises control. In other words, the officers and employees of the Central government have not been brought within the purview of ACB, GNCTD”.
This decision comes in the light of FIRs initiated by the Delhi government for investigation into an alleged gas pricing scam involving senior Central government officials, ministers and Reliance India Ltd. While the court has not gone into other legal issues raised by the ACB FIR, the decision means that the ACB cannot probe allegations against the Petroleum Ministry officials and two former ministers.
In the judgment, covering seven issues raised in nine different writ petitions, the High Court said “the contention on behalf of the Government of NCT of Delhi that the Lt Governor is bound to act only on the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers is untenable and cannot be accepted”.
It is the elected government of Delhi, the bench said, which is required to “communicate its decisions” to the Lt Governor and issue orders only after the latter’s approval.
Setting aside the AAP government’s decisions to appoint commissions of inquiry into allegations against the DDCA and the CNG fitness case, the bench held that the “appropriate government” under the Commissions of Inquiry Act was the Central government with respect to Union Territories.
Welcoming the verdict, ASG Sanjay Jain, who represented the Central government, said the judgment was “in line with constitutional provisions as the Lt Governor is the Chief Executive Officer of Delhi”.