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The South Asian Insider

Delhi govt wins Supreme Court battle with Centre, gets control over services except law and order, land

The Supreme Court on Thursday in a unanimous judgment ruled in favour of the elected government and said it will have power on all services except law and order and land. LG shall exercise powers under the administrative role as entrusted by the president. Executive administration can only extend to matters which fall outside the legislative assembly but is limited to the powers entrusted by President and it cannot mean administration over the entire NCTD, otherwise the purpose of having a separate elected body in Delhi will be rendered futile, the top court said. It is ideal to hold that democratically elected govt shall have control over its officers, it ruled. If a democratically elected govt is not allowed to control its officers and hold them to account then its responsibility towards the legislature and public is diluted. "If an officer is not responding to govt the collective responsibility is diluted.. if an officer feels they are insulated from elected govt they feel they are not accountable," the CJI said.
The Constitution Bench said it does not agree with Justice Ashok Bhushan in the split judgment of 2019 on who has the power over Delhi's services etc - the Delhi government or the Centre. As CJI DY Chandrachud read the verdict, he said the principle of democracy forms a part of basic structure federalism, ensures the survival of diverse interests and accommodates diverse needs. As the Delhi government is elected by the electorates it must be interpreted to further the cause of representative democracy, the CJI said."Article 239A(3)(A)(a) does not confer multiple safeguards to ensure that the interests of Union Govt are protected. It provides GNCTD legislature has no power to deal with entries 1, 2 and 8 of list 2. Article 239AA stipulates legislative power of Delhi Govt is excluded with respect to specified lists. entries 1, 2 and 18 of list 2(public order, police and land). The legislative structure is to exclude only specified entries from the power of the legislative assembly of GNCTD," Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud said.
"Delhi assembly is given powers to legislate to represent the will of the people. The principle of democracy and federalism form a part of basic structure. Federalism ensures the survival of diverse interests and accommodates diverse needs," the CJI said.
The Delhi case involves the continuation of a dispute that two smaller benches failed to resolve - who controls the Capital's bureaucrat, the lieutenant governor or the elected government?
In May 2022, when it referred the matter to a five-judge bench, the court clarified that the bench shall adjudicate the limited issue relating to 'services' in Delhi and that no other substantial issue on interpretation of Article 239AA shall be adjudicated afresh. Article 239AA delineates the legislative and executive powers of the Delhi government while clarifying that three subjects, namely land, police and public order, shall remain under the exclusive domain of the Centre in the capital.