The Centre has through an ordinance overturned a Supreme Court judgment of May 11 that held that the elected government of the National Capital Territory of Delhi had executive and legislative powers over its officials. The move has set in motion a new legal battle. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government in Delhi has decided to challenge the ordinance, while the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government at the Centre has moved the Court to review its judgment. The National Capital Territory of Delhi Act (NCTD), 1991 created a unique administrative unit, and judicial interpretations have never completely resolved the conflicts between the Centre and the elected government of the NCTD all these years. The judgment held that Union Territories with a Legislative Assembly of their own are comparable to States, and their government’s executive powers would extend to all matters on which they are allowed to make laws. In Delhi’s case, law and order and land remained with the Centre, unlike other States. The Court also pointed out the absence of a law on services, and the lack of oversight by elected representatives over the officials under the present scheme. The ordinance purportedly removes the basis of the judgment by creating the National Capital Civil Service Authority. The Chief Minister is the chair, with the Chief Secretary and Principal Secretary, Home — both appointed by the central government — as members. The Centre reclaimed all powers it lost in the judgment.
The Centre is well within its powers to overturn a judicial pronouncement through legislation. Whether the basis of the instant judgment has been removed by the ordinance remains an open question, but the more pertinent issue is the political intent of the Centre’s move. The Centre under the current BJP dispensation has been confrontational, rather than cooperative, with States in resolving governance issues. It has shown little regard for elected governments at lower levels, while claiming for itself all powers on the grounds of its electoral majority. Delhi being the national capital has to maintain a unique administrative character, and it should not be left to the exigencies of local politics. Equally, the voters of Delhi cannot be disenfranchised for extraneous reasons. The irony is that AAP itself has been a votary of centralisation, though it could swing to provincialism to suit its leaders in a changed situation. The AAP government had resorted to provincialist rhetoric in the past, also going to the extent of questioning the rights of people from other States to access health care and education in the national capital. It was also a cheerleader of the Centre’s brazen move that dismantled the State of Jammu and Kashmir into two Union Territories. Democracy and federalism are threatened by an unprincipled hunger for power, and AAP is both villain and victim.