President of India Ram Nath Kovind finally signed the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (Amendment) Act, 2021, on Sunday. This act will make the Lieutenant Governor the “Government” of Delhi. So, what will this mean for the elected government of Delhi? The act was passed by the Lower House of the Parliament, the Lok Sabha, on March 22 and the Rajya Sabha passed the NCT amendment bill 2021 two days later on March 24. The new NCT Act Delhi has made amendments to the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi Act of 1991. Now the question is will NCT Act 2021 make Lt Gov the only authority in Delhi?
What is the new amendment?
The act has added that “The expression ‘Government’ referred to in any law to be made by the Legislative Assembly shall mean the Lieutenant Governor” to Section 21 of the Act. With an amendment of Section 24 of the 1991 Act, which deals with the “assent of bills”, Section 3 of the same Act will extend the powers of the Lieutenant Governor. Section 5 of the Act adds a provision to Section 44 of the 1991 Act which deals with ‘conduct of business’. It makes it mandatory for the Delhi government to obtain the opinion of the Lieutenant Governor on all matters, before taking any ‘executive action’. Now, Delhi’s elected government will have to seek permission or opinion from the Lieutenant Governor before any executive action is taken.
Even though the Delhi Assembly can formulate laws on any subject on the state list and concurrent list but cannot make laws when it comes to 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 NCT of Delhi (Amendment) Bill, 2021 is an unconstitutional attempt to make Delhi Government 'administratively impotent' by a political party that has been made 'electorally impotent' by people of Delhi
— Raghav Chadha (@raghav_chadha) March 24, 2021
Will NCT Act 2021 make Lt Gov the only authority in Delhi?
There have been some changes when it comes to Section 33 of the 1991 Act. The Act says that the Delhi Legislative Assembly will not make any rule that enables it or any of its committees to contemplate on daily matters of the working of the administration which concerns the National Capital Region. It will also not conduct any inquiries with 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 says.
The statement of objects and reasons of the Act says that it has been brought in to put the interpretation made by the Supreme Court into effect. The apex court had said that the elected government that rules the city does not need the Lieutenant Governor’s “concurrence” of every issue of day-to-day governance. “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. The same query arises- will NCT Act 2021 make Lt Governor only authority in Delhi?
Why is there unrest against the Act?
The Aam Admi Party (AAP) which forms the incumbent government has alleged that the bill is nothing but an “unconstitutional” attempt by the Modi-led BJP government at the centre to make the Delhi government “administratively impotent”. But the AAP is not the only one criticising the move. The Indian National Congress, Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress, Shiv Sena, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and other opposition parties have also called the bill “unconstitutional” and said that this move would fail any judicial scrutiny if there was any in place. These parties also demanded that the bill should be examined by an unbiased committee.
Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan tweeted, “Govt of NCT of Delhi (AMD) Bill is an affront to our federal principles and rights of States. Restriction of the constitutional authority of democratically elected State Govts and violation of Supreme Court’s verdicts should be resisted. @BJP4India has colonial a mindset.”
Govt of NCT of Delhi (Amd) Bill is an affront to our federal principles and rights of States. Restriction of constitutional authority of democratically elected State Govts and violation of Supreme Court's verdicts, should be resisted. @BJP4India has colonial a mindset.
— Pinarayi Vijayan (@vijayanpinarayi) March 28, 2021
Former Finance Minister and senior leader of the Indian National Congress wrote in his opinion piece that if the governance goes on like this the country would not end up any better than the autocratic rule in China. “Democracy in India is diminished every day. The world has taken note of the fact that India is only ‘partly free’. The goal of the BJP is to establish a one-party rule, an over-sized and rubber-stamping Parliament, a compliant judiciary, officially sponsored media, obedient corporates, and a subservient people who will be happy with material progress. That India will be no different from China. It is deja vu 1935, the Government of India Act, 1935, and ‘Go Back Simon’,” he wrote in Indian Express.
What is the Central government saying?
The BJP-run Central government has always said that the bill is in line with the Supreme Court’s July 2018 ruling which commented on how the Lieutenant Governor had no business in the daily dealings of the Delhi government. They say that this Act only makes it clear what the Delhi Governments powers are and how far they extend. Union Minister of State for Home Affairs G Kishan Reddy said that the amendments have been put in place to address certain ambiguities in the pre-existing 1991 law. He also went on to reject all allegations that have called it an attempt to take away the powers of the elected government. He added that the new amendments will make the process of governance transparent and bring more clarity to the governance of NCT Delhi. It will also enhance public accountability, he says. “The proposed bill does not curtail in any manner any of the powers enjoyed by the government of NCT Delhi which is already provided in the Constitution,” the Minister was quoted saying.
Delhi Chief Minister understandably does not agree with the BJP government at the Centre. He says that this is nothing but an attempt to curb the powers of an elected government by the Centre. He also does not find the law to be in tandem with the Supreme Court hearing of 2018 which was the result of a power tussle between the Delhi government and the Central government.