Little power, great responsibility

All efforts of Delhi’s elected AAP government to live up to its mandate have been hindered by the Centre. Full statehood is the only way forward

Written by Manish Sisodia | Updated: June 16, 2018 8:37:32 am
As soon as the AAP government in Delhi set about fulfilling its mandate, the BJP-ruled central government started infringing on its powers. (Illustration by CR Sasikumar)

Delhi, our national capital, is an embodiment of the entire nation. Hailed often as a city of immigrants, lakhs of citizens from all parts of the country make Delhi their home every year. The single reason that draws them to the city is hope. Hope for a better future for themselves and the city they call home. Naturally, they expect the best from themselves as well as their elected government. It was this spirit that gave birth to the historic anti-corruption movement in 2011, culminating in an unprecedented mandate of 67 out of 70 seats for the Aam Aadmi Party in the 2015 Delhi Assembly elections. This fact alone speaks volumes of the resentment among the people of the city with Delhi’s governance woes and their yearning for a better tomorrow — better schools, healthcare, water supply, electricity, transport, environment, safety and above all else, a government that is honest and accountable to them.

As soon as the AAP government in Delhi set about fulfilling its mandate, the BJP-ruled central government started infringing on its powers. One of our key mandates was to crack down on corruption. Within days of coming to power, we strengthened Delhi’s Anti Corruption Branch (ACB), which had always functioned under the Delhi government, including during the 15-year rule of the Sheila Dikshit government. A new helpline was launched, which received 32,489 calls in the first 100 hours of which many led to the arrest of government officials. To counter the wave of popularity that followed, the Centre struck by passing orders and forcefully taking away control of Delhi’s ACB by sending paramilitary forces. Today, Delhi’s ACB is back to being a decaying and defunct organisation.
In a similar manner, the Services department which decides the appointments, transfers and postings of all officers of the Delhi government, including IAS officers, had always functioned under the elected government in Delhi. But an order issued by the Union home ministry in May 2015 instantly stripped the AAP government of the control of the Services department, and therefore authority over all its officers. No elected government in Delhi or anywhere in India has ever had to face this.

The fallout of this action has been unprecedented in the annals of Indian democracy. Today, only in Delhi does a bureaucrat think it is okay to tell his education minister, “I cannot tell you the number of pending positions of teachers to be employed in schools because that comes under the Services department, which is not under your purview and comes under the Centre”. Many of our policy proposals are routinely returned because we are not allowed to propose the number and type of staff to man the institutions we wish to create to serve the people of Delhi, for example, creation of schools, colleges and hospitals. And it is for the same reason that neither the Centre nor its representative in Delhi — the Lieutenant Governor — has shown any urgency or accountability to fill over 50 per cent staff vacancies in all major departments of the Delhi government, causing almost a crippling effect on our ability to implement our mandate.

The fate of Delhi’s Jan Lokpal Bill, the most powerful such piece of legislation anywhere in India, has been sealed in a similar manner by the central government. The bill could have been approved and brought in force within six months. But because the bill needed the approval of a central government that is bent upon the single-minded political persecution of the AAP government, the bill has been kept pending for almost three years now. Had the Centre cooperated, an accountable ACB and an effective Jan Lokpal Bill would have made every common citizen in Delhi proud that be it the CM or the peon of my government, if anybody indulges in corruption then he is put behind bars.

Since the Delhi government effectively operates at the mercy of the Centre, our proposal to regularise the unauthorised colonies of Delhi in a fair and transparent manner, which was drafted in three months by our government, has been stuck with the Centre for three years now. And it is for the same reason that the Lieutenant Governor, who exercises a veto over every decision of the Delhi government, did not think twice before dismissing a proposal duly cleared by Delhi’s cabinet to create a nodal agency for efficient procurement of medicines and lab tests in Delhi’s clinics and hospitals with a terse line: “I am not sure that this is such a good idea.”

Is it not a sign of a flawed system of governance that the only elected representative answerable for any law and order situation affecting nearly two crore citizens of Delhi is the Home Minister of India? Be it a chain snatching incident in Anand Vihar, or a rape of an infant in Shalimar Bagh, the only elected representative that the people of Delhi can hold accountable is India’s home minister, who is simultaneously tasked with issues in Jammu and Kashmir, the Northeast and Maoist insurgency in Central India. Is it a surprise then that Delhi continues to hold the disgraceful title of India’s crime capital?

Despite these hindrances, the sheer political will of the AAP government has ensured a complete transformation in several sectors, particularly education, health, water and electricity — many of which are being lauded and emulated across the country. But every such success has led to a new wave of political persecution at the hands of a central government that is willing to use and abuse all the powers at its disposal for political gains. First, a record number of cases were filed by the Centre-controlled Delhi Police on AAP MLAs, all to be dismissed by the courts. Then the CBI was let loose on all the ministers, even though not a single allegation has been proven against any of them till date. It is in this context that the strike by IAS officers, orchestrated by the Centre, must be seen. In responding to this crisis, the LG has acknowledged that the IAS officers aren’t meeting the ministers of the Delhi government, or taking their calls or joining them for field inspections, but has desisted from calling this a strike or taking any action to stop it. Our question to the Prime Minister of India is — would you be able to function a single day if your Cabinet Secretary, Finance Secretary or Home Secretary felt it unnecessary to speak or communicate directly to you or come to your meetings?

Given the prevailing governance crisis rooted in a deeply flawed scheme of governance in Delhi, the AAP government has intensified its demand for the only meaningful solution that exists — full statehood for Delhi. This is also a demand that has prominently figured in every BJP and Congress manifesto for Delhi since the 1980s. History shows that every respectable democracy with a thriving megacity as its capital has provided a high degree of autonomy to the elected governments of their capital — London, Paris and Berlin are all great examples.

However, Delhi needs to find its own model. Our government has already proposed a draft bill back in 2016, which has been accepted by prominent constitutional experts and bureaucrats. Under this bill, the Centre would directly administer the core New Delhi Municipal Council, which houses all the Central government ministries and foreign embassies, and the rest of it will function as a full state under a government elected by the people of Delhi. If the Centre has other suggestions, we are open to discussing them too. But a lack of any discussion betrays a colonial spirit to centralise and hold on to all available power. We will not accept this. Because the fight to secure the full democratic rights of citizens residing in Delhi is a fight for the democratic soul of the country.

The writer is an AAP leader and deputy chief minister of Delhi

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