Updated: March 31, 2021 8:51:58 am
On December 20, 1991, Home Minister S B Chavan tabled the Constitution Amendment Bill in the Lok Sabha to add Article 239AA and 239AB to our Constitution. The amendment paved the way for the setting up a legislative assembly and a council of ministers for the National Capital Territory (NCT) of Delhi. When the Bill was put to a vote, it was passed unanimously with all 349 members in the Lok Sabha supporting the bill. Along with Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the members who favoured the Bill included L K Advani and Madan Lal Khurana who had voted in support even after the amendments they introduced earlier in the day were negated. This started the process of Delhi having a legislative assembly and a council of ministers and Madan Lal Khurana went on to become the first Chief Minister of Delhi.
Earlier this week, both Houses of Parliament voted overwhelmingly in favour of the amendments to the Government of the National Capital Territory (NCT) of Delhi Act. The amendments aimed to clear ambiguities in the roles of various stakeholders and provide a constructive rules-based framework for stakeholders within the government of Delhi to work in tandem with the Union government. This rules-based framework is especially important given that Delhi is also our national capital and carries the symbolism that comes with being the seat of the sovereign power.
The NDA government, under the leadership of the Prime Minister, has championed cooperative federalism, which is evident from the tangible steps that have been taken to achieve this. The creation of NITI Aayog, the establishment of the GST council, and the restructuring of central schemes are clear examples of promoting fiscal federalism in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s first term. In the 2019 manifesto, the NDA promised greater involvement of the states in all aspects of policymaking and governance, thereby strengthening federalism.
Cooperative federalism requires an environment of trust and mutual cooperation. A necessary condition for such an environment is the distinct delineation of roles and responsibilities, the removal of ambiguities, and the definition of a clear chain of command among stakeholders. In this regard, it was important to define, without a doubt, who represents the government in the unique case of Delhi.
In June 2015, the Delhi legislative assembly had passed the Delhi Netaji Subhas University of Technology Bill and sent it for assent to the President of India. In the Bill, it had defined the term “government” as the “Government of the National Capital Territory of Delhi”. In January 2017, the Lieutenant Governor (LG) wrote to the Speaker of the Legislative assembly of Delhi stating that the President had returned the bill. One of the reasons stated for this was the inconsistent definition of the term “government”. The Delhi Assembly passed a modified version of the bill where the definition of “government” was described as “Lieutenant Governor of NCT Delhi appointed by the President”.
The amendment that was passed by Parliament aims to bring in this very consistency that the Delhi government has acknowledged and course-corrected on. As the Act now has the President’s assent, we also need to ensure that the LG is made more accountable. This can be done by stipulating a maximum time limit to decide on matters that are referred to the LG in the case of legislative proposals and administrative matters in the rules.
The constitutional amendment passed in 1991 empowers the Parliament to enact laws supplementing constitutional provisions. Similarly, the Government of NCT of Delhi also has the power to enact laws regarding matters specified under the state list and concurrent list, to the extent these apply to a Union territory.
It becomes important to ensure there is complete synchronisation between the Union government and the Government of NCT of Delhi and there is no encroachment in legislative matters. In the case of the Government of NCT of Delhi, it has no legislative competence in matters pertaining to the police, public order, and land, which are in the state list but do not apply to Union Territories. The risk of incremental encroachments on these subjects in the legislative proposals under consideration by the Delhi Legislative Assembly can have severe ramifications for Delhi. Similarly, making the Delhi assembly rules consistent with the rules of the Lok Sabha or ensuring that the opinion of the LG is taken can only ensure clarity and foster an environment of co-operation. Thus, for the opposition to portray a government exercising its constitutional responsibilities as an undemocratic act shows a wilful lack of understanding.
Our national capital hosts the country’s legislature, the seat of the Union government, the judiciary, diplomatic missions, and other institutions of national importance. It deserves smooth functioning and cannot be subject to misadventures arising from the ambiguities in the roles and responsibilities of its stakeholders.
While some in the opposition have accused the government of undermining the federal structure of the country, others have painted an even darker picture proclaiming the death of democracy itself. Nothing can be farther from the truth. The people of Delhi deserve a functioning government, and the amendments made aid in creating such an environment.
This article first appeared in the print edition on March 31, 2021 under the title ‘Ending ambiguity in Delhi’. The writer is Minister of State for Home Affairs and represents the Secunderabad Parliamentary constituency in the Lok Sabha
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