Never before has Delhi seen such public confrontation between the lieutenant governor and the chief minister. The chief minister appears to be provoking a public fight in which he expects to win on the strength of the citizens’ mandate. If he succeeds, he believes, his stature will soar, making him the national leader he longs to be. If he fails, he is confident, the discontent of Delhi citizens can be used to turn this episode into a case of wilful denial of rights.
The constitutional amendment and the Government of National Capital Territory (NCT) of Delhi Act ,1991, were not passed in isolation. They emanate from the well-recognised principle of diarchy. The chief minister may be right in attributing his helplessness in delivering on promises made to the people of Delhi to the duality of control and lack of authority. But by attempting to defy the provisions of the Constitution and the law, and seeking dominance through executive instructions, he risks causing grave damage to his office and the governance of Delhi.
Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has been both audacious and imprudent. These are qualities that endear civil society organisations to a voiceless citizenry. Because such organisations have taken no oath to abide by the Constitution and the law, they can whip up public passions by resorting to the power of rhetoric and emotion. But once elected to public office, the only route available to the chief minister was to enlarge his authority by first highlighting the damage that the absence of autonomy was wreaking on Delhi’s governance, and to use the unprecedented mandate he commanded to demand Central support for providing what the capital of the country needed most.
Proposals to revamp the antiquated provisions of the 42-year-old Delhi School Education Act, to support the provision of clean piped water and sewerage, to have a say in the management of traffic and parking, better options for public transport to reduce pollution, approving new ways of raising resources, fining recalcitrant citizens who indulge in unauthorised construction and encroach on public spaces could not and would not have been rejected, given the chief minister’s mandate. In the early days, when success was heady and public opinion resounding, he could have demanded from the Central government the leeway to make the capital city liveable. It could not have been thwarted by the Centre.
But that time is over. With Kejriwal admitting, in less than two months in office, that he can deliver on barely half of what he had promised over five years, the government has committed political hara kiri. To add to that, the media, which could have bolstered his efforts to gain primacy in Delhi’s development, has been incensed by the chief minister’s public harangue and threats. Petulance and administrative diktats on routing files are weak strategies when the Constitution, the law, the Transaction of Business Rules issued in the name of the president nearly 25 years ago, all back the LG.
What is the course now open to the chief minister? It may not be out of place for him to read what the noted economist, Paul Krugman, recently wrote in The New York Times on political integrity. The context may be different but the principle holds: politicians “need to have the willingness to face facts opposed to one’s preconceptions, to admit mistakes and change course”.
As a well wisher of Delhi’s development and its future, I urge the chief minister not to fight the legal position stated in black-and-white. First, the Constitution clearly says, “in case of difference of opinion between the LG and his ministers, the LG shall refer the matter to the president and act according to the decision given by the president and pending such decision it shall be competent for the LG to give such direction as he deems necessary”. The NCT act further states that the LG’s decision on matters that are judicial and quasi-judicial in nature shall be final.
The ensuing Transaction of Business Rules provide that, on matters concerning “public order”, “police” and “land”, the LG should exercise his executive functions in consultation with the chief minister, but this has been restricted to policy issues and resolved in a spirit of give and take. Now this provision is being cited by the chief minister to win the battle over the routing of files pertaining to the three reserved subjects, through orders that he be part of the official system disposing of such matters. But he forgets that “consultation” has not been defined and the interpretation of the word lies in the mouth of those who made the provision or with the courts, not the beneficiary himself.
The Transaction of Business Rules also provide that if there is a difference of opinion between the LG and a minister or ministers, the LG shall refer the matter to the Centre and act according to the decision of the president. When the matter is so referred but immediate action is needed, the LG can give directions which have to be complied with. That pretty much forecloses the opportunity to wage war against the LG.
The experience of working with various chief ministers points to a lesson that Kejriwal needs to follow: There is much to be gained through persuading the Central ministries to support the development of the capital city, by submitting specific proposals and following them up with tenacity. The LG, too, should discuss development priorities with the CM and mediate with the Central government. This always happened, despite governments at the Centre and in Delhi being run by different parties over time. Public transport run on CNG, speciality hospitals, amendments in the house tax and cooperative societies acts, the arrival of the Metro, low-floor buses and world class flyovers, to name just a few improvements, were achieved through a joint determination to make Delhi shine.
It is also time for the ministry of home affairs to resolve the differences before democracy and the rule of law are held up to ridicule.
The writer is a former secretary to the government of India and former chief secretary, Delhi.