'Black day for democracy': Delhi Bill passed in Parliament amid protests

The Delhi government will now have to seek the opinion of the Lieutenant Governor before any executive action after the passage of GNCTD bill.
MPs inside Rajya Sabha
MPs inside Rajya Sabha
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Parliament on Wednesday approved a bill giving primacy to Delhi's Lieutenant Governor (L-G) over the elected government, after uproar by the opposition in Rajya Sabha with members of several parties walking out of the House. Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal termed it as a "sad day for Indian democracy" and said the AAP dispensation will continue to struggle to restore power to Delhiites as Rajya Sabha passed by a voice vote the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (GNCTD) (Amendment) Bill, 2021.

Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia tweeted, "Today is a black day for democracy. The rights of the elected government have been given to the Lt Governor. The sad part is that the Parliament, which is the temple of democracy, has been chosen to murder democracy. The people of Delhi will resist this dictatorial trends."

The Delhi government will now have to seek the opinion of the Lieutenant Governor before any executive action after the passage of GNCTD bill. The Centre has maintained that the bill is in line with the Supreme Court's July 2018 ruling on the ambit of powers of the lieutenant governor and the Delhi government after a series of run-ins between the two.

The Aam Aadmi Party said it was planning to approach the Supreme Court against the legislation, alleging it was an "unconstitutional" attempt to make the Delhi government "administratively impotent" by a political party that has been made "electorally impotent" by the people of the national capital.

The bill which seeks to make it clear that the "government" in Delhi means the "Lieutenant Governor" was passed by Lok Sabha on March 22.

The members of Congress, Trinamool Congress, Shiv Sena, DMK and other opposition parties also termed the bill as "unconstitutional" and claimed that it will fail judicial scrutiny. They demanded that it be examined by a Select Committee.

The Upper House witnessed two brief adjournments as opposition members trooped into the Well and shouted slogans against the Centre. Rajya Sabha Secretariat called marshals who formed a protective ring around the Chair as well as Union Minister of State for Home Affairs G Kishan Reddy who moved the bill for further consideration. The members of the BJD, SP and the YSR-Congress walked out of the House.

During the debate, Congress MP Abhishek Manu Singhvi tore into the proposed legislation, dubbing it the "most unconstitutional bill" which the House has ever received and went on to say that "even the Delhi BJP should join us in opposing this".

"Make no mistake friends this is not about AAP, or Congress or BJP. It's about the fundamentals of federalism...," he said, and alleged the current regime at Centre was engaged into "coercive federalism".

Defending the bill, Union Minister Reddy asserted that the amendments have been brought to address certain ambiguities in the 1991 law and rejected allegations that it was an attempt to usurp the powers of the elected government.

Sanjay Singh, MP of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) which is in power in Delhi, took a jibe at the BJP saying the bill has been brought as it lost assembly elections twice.

"I am seeking justice for two crore citizens of Delhi and for 130 crore Indians. I am standing here to save the Constitution of India," he said. A notice moved by Singh regarding the bill was not approved by the Chair.

A division was sought by the opposition when the government moved the bill for consideration in the Upper House on Wednesday. During voting, 83 members were in favour while 45 opposed the bill. Just before the passage of the bill, the Congress too walked out.

Replying to the debate, Union Minister Kishan Reddy said the amendments will lead to transparency and clarity in governance in NCT Delhi and enhance public accountability.

Explaining the rationale behind the bill, he said the amendments have been brought to remove ambiguities in the 1991 Act. He stressed that changes in the law have been sought in the spirit of what has been said in the Supreme Court judgment. He asserted there was no political angle and the amendments are on "technical" grounds.

"The proposed bill does not curtail in any manner any of the powers enjoyed by the government of NCT Delhi which are already provided in the Constitution," he said.

According to the statement of objects and reasons of the bill, to give effect to the interpretation made by the Supreme Court which had ruled that the city government need not obtain the Lieutenant Governor's "concurrence" of every issue of day-to-day governance, the bill has been brought.

"The said bill will promote harmonious relations between the legislature and the executive, and further define the responsibilities of the elected government and the L-G, in line with the constitutional scheme of governance of the National Capital Territory of Delhi, as interpreted by the Supreme Court," the statement of objects said.

"Whatever powers are given, the Modi government through this amendment bill will not take away any powers. I want to assure the Delhi people," Reddy said.

The Minister said that the GNCTD was first brought in 1991. However, the law went to the High Court and Supreme Court benches as there were problems and ambiguity.

He added there were discussions on the GNCTD Act 1991 at different forums. The law was enacted by Parliament but was being discussed outside and in courts, he said.

"It is our responsibility to give clarity. Nothing is being added to the GNCTD Act which is contrary to constitutional framework...," he said, adding that the bill proposes four key amendments.

The minister said that Delhi is not a full-fledged state and does not have full power.

Executive powers of the LG of Delhi are different from the powers of governors of the state. The Delhi assembly can make laws on all subjects in the state list and concurrent list except public order, police and land.

"When a bill has been passed by the legislative assembly, it shall be presented to the lieutenant governor and the lieutenant governor shall declare either that he assents to the bill or that he withholds assent therefrom or that he reserves the bill for the consideration of the president...," the bill said.

The bill stated that the legislative assembly shall not make any rule to enable itself or its committees to consider the matters of the day-to-day administration of the national capital or conduct inquiries in relation to the administrative decisions.

"Any of the rule made in contravention of this proviso, before the commencement of the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (Amendment) Act, 2021, shall be void," it said.

In June 2018, Kejriwal and his Cabinet ministers had staged a sit-in at the lieutenant governor's office as a power tussle between the then lieutenant governor and the AAP government had intensified.

The Supreme Court had in July 2018 ruled that the lieutenant governor cannot interfere in every decision of the Delhi government and that he must act on aid and advice of the council of ministers.

(With inputs from IANS)

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