In a decision with significant political ramifications, the Supreme Court today delivered a verdict that has seemingly brought an end to the administrative impasse in the national capital.
The five-judge Constitutional bench led by Chief Justice Dipak Misra said that the city-state’s elected government has supremacy over the lieutenant governor (also known as L-G, who is appointed by the Central government) when it comes to making administrative decisions for the national capital, except on matters pertaining to the police, land and law and order.
All five judges unanimously agreed that the L-G must respect the decisions of an elected government, and act on the aid and advice of the council of ministers. Delhi is not a complete state, and the L-G is not in the same class as governors of states, the bench said.
However, it argued that the L-G cannot act independently and is bound by the advice of the elected council of ministers.
At the heart of this conflict between the Centre and Delhi government are Article 239AA of the Constitution, the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi Act, 1991 (GNCT Act), the rules formulated under this Act (Transaction of Business Rules), and the relevant judgements.
Going further, according to Article 239AA(4):
“There shall be a Council of Ministers consisting of not more than ten per cent of the total number of members in the Legislative Assembly, with the Chief Minister at the head to aid and advise the Lieutenant Governor in the exercise of his functions in relation to matters with respect to which the Legislative Assembly has the power to make laws, except in so far as he is, by or under any law, required to act in his discretion.”
Justice YV Chandarchud said “Article 239AA(4) has to be construed so that ‘any matter’ is not ‘every trivial matter’; otherwise governance will come to a standstill” and that the “Lt Governor must bear in mind that it is not he but Council of Ministers who take substantive decisions,” reported Bar and Bench.
Meanwhile, Chief Justice Misra argued that the “Council of Ministers has to communicate its decision to L-G, but this does not mean that the council is bound by the L-G,” reported Bar and Bench.
In May 2015, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government had moved the Delhi High Court after the Ministry of Home Affairs had passed a notification on May 21 giving “unprecedented powers” to the Lieutenant Governor.
More than a year later in August 2016, the High Court had ruled on the matter in favour of the L-G, saying the Constitution mandated that the governor is the administrative head of Delhi and enjoys wide-ranging discretionary powers. The AAP government appealed this decision in the apex court.
The apex court has seemingly landed on the right side of this issue since the entire raison d’être of an elected legislature falls apart when it possesses little executive powers.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)