Power-Hungry Centre

Dr Suresh Mathew Dr Suresh Mathew
22 Mar 2021

Centralization of power is the trademark of autocracy. In a democracy, power should be with the people, and their elected representatives. Any law to the contrary, howsoever sugar-coated it may be, will put the axe to the root of democracy. This came to light in the Lok Sabha recently when the Centre introduced the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (Amendment) Bill 2021. Delhi has seen perennial clash, especially after the AAP government came to power, between the elected government led by the Chief Minister and the Lieutenant Governor. The problem arises mainly because of the ambiguities in the 1991 Act which established Delhi as a Union Territory with an elected Assembly. The conflict took a serious turn when the AAP government decided to implement some of its pro-people programmes. The Kejriwal government realized that the Lieutenant Governor was a stumbling block in implementing many of its policies as the latter insisted that files should be sent to him before executing any policy. 

This had led to a stalemate in governance especially during the previous term of the Kejriwal government. However, the Supreme Court’s verdict in 2018 led to a truce between the two warring centres of governance. The five-Judge Bench held that concurrence of the L-G was not necessary in taking decisions on subjects other than police, public order, and land. The Bench opined that if the elected government has to take permission from the L-G on each issue, it will be a negation of the principles of the representative form of governance and democracy. This verdict came as a relief for the Kejriwal government which then stopped sending many files to the L-G for his concurrence. As directed by the apex court, it was only keeping the L-G informed of the decisions taken by the government, and not taking prior permission.  

The Bill introduced in the Lok Sabha is apparently a negation of the Supreme Court verdict. The core of the controversy is that, according to the Bill, the expression ‘government’ referred to in any law to be made by the Assembly shall mean Lieutenant Governor. The Centre claims that the Bill is meant to define the powers and responsibilities of the government and the L-G as per the Supreme Court judgment. However, the purpose seems to gain backdoor entry and control the government through the office of the L-G, who is an appointee of the Centre. It is feared that this move will take away power from the elected government and the L-G will become the centre of governance. 

It is no secret that the BJP has not been able to come back to power in the national Capital after the first government led by it was defeated by the Congress party in 1998. Despite Narendra Modi’s coming to power at the Centre, the BJP has not been able to make much headway in the State politics. Even when the saffron party swept the polls in the general elections, it had to eat the dust in State elections. The new Bill is a clear indication that the Centre wants to have a bigger share in the governance pie of the National Capital Territory of Delhi. This sends out the message that the ruling party at the Centre is opposed to the autonomy of States and independence of elected governments. This is an ill-conceived move as power should rest with the elected government in a democracy.

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