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Saturday, April 17, 2021

Law and control

Passing of GNCTD Bill frames Centre’s hubris, reverses gains in Delhi’s quest for statehood, undercuts federalism.

By: Editorial |
Updated: March 26, 2021 7:48:54 am
LK Advani introduced the Delhi State Bill in Parliament in 2003.

Less than 10 days after it was introduced in the Lok Sabha, the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (Amendment) Bill, 2021 has got the approval of both Houses of Parliament. Surely, a piece of legislation that proposes far-reaching changes in the National Capital Territory’s administration, drastically undermines the powers of Delhi’s elected government and virtually upturns a landmark Supreme Court verdict, warranted a longer journey in both Houses. It required thorough deliberation, even referral to a Select Committee, as demanded by members of the Opposition. That this did not happen speaks of the hubris of the central government, and draws attention, again, to its disturbing tendency of using its majority to steamroll contentious Bills — the farm laws, just before this — through Parliament. It also shines light on the volte face by the BJP, whose championing of Delhi’s quest for statehood dates back to at least 25 years. In fact, as Home Minister, LK Advani introduced the Delhi State Bill in Parliament in 2003. Is it not revanchism that when relegated to a distant runner-up in two successive elections to the Delhi assembly, the BJP uses its majority at the Centre to push legislation that requires Delhi’s AAP government to seek the L-G’s sanction for every administrative action?

Delhi’s special position as the country’s capital requires a bold re-imagination of the federal contract that currently determines its executive and legislative boundaries. On paper, that contract has been skewed against the elected government. But over a substantial period in the past 20 years, the Centre, its representative, the L-G, and the Delhi government seemed to have developed a working relationship, indeed a partnership at times, whose benefits continue to be felt by the city’s residents — the conversion of the city’s public transport fleet to the environment-friendly CNG, introduction of private players in the power sector, and the Metro. It is true that AAP’s advent on the city’s political scene, its shrill political pitch and its preference for agitational politics over patient negotiations led to a setback in the evolving concord between the Centre and the elected government. However, the Supreme Court verdict of 2018 that removed the ambiguities of the powers of Delhi’s L-G vis-à-vis its council of ministers inaugurated a period of relative calm. The apex court’s ruling that the elected government has pre-eminence on all matters other than police, public order and land enabled AAP to turn its welfarist agenda into policies — mechanisation of the sewage system, free bus rides to women, free electricity to those using less than 200 units of power. Except on a few occasions, the L-G and the Delhi government were on the same page during the critical period of the pandemic last year.

The new law, by making Delhi’s L-G synonymous with the city’s government, will reverse the progress made in the past 20 years in the NCT’s quest for statehood, and also be bad news for federalism. The court must step in, and apply to the law the constitutionality test.

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