A controversial bill proposing to give more powers to Delhi's Lieutenant Governor -- the Centre's representative -- compared to the city's elected government, was passed by the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday amid a walkout by the Congress and several other opposition parties including Delhi's ruling Aam Aadmi Party. The bill is seen as a huge setback to Arvind Kejriwal's government, which has been sparring with the Lieutenant Governor since it came to power for the first time in the national capital in 2013.
The Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (Amendment) Bill makes it clear that the term "government" in Delhi means the Lieutenant Governor and his opinion has to be taken before the Delhi government takes any executive action.
Mr Kejriwal, in a tweet, said: "RS passes GNCTD amendment Bill. Sad day for Indian democracy. We will continue our struggle to restore power back to people. Whatever be the obstacles, we will continue doing good work. Work will neither stop nor slow down".
RS passes GNCTD amendment Bill. Sad day for Indian democracy— Arvind Kejriwal (@ArvindKejriwal) March 24, 2021
We will continue our struggle to restore power back to people.
Whatever be the obstacles, we will continue doing good work. Work will neither stop nor slow down.
The bill was passed after two days of chaos in the Upper House, where opposition MPs repeatedly said it will destroy democracy. The opposition has been demanding that the bill be sent to a Select Committee.
The legislation was passed in Rajya Sabha by a voice vote. The opposition had sought a division when the government moved the bill for consideration. During voting, 83 members were in favour while 45 opposed the bill. Just before the passage of the bill, the Congress too walked out.
"The way Draupadi's clothes were ripped off (in Mahabharat) -- the Constitution is being given the same treatment," said Aam Aadmi Party's Sanjay Singh, who earlier said the BJP brought the bill because it lost the assembly elections in Delhi twice.
"The Constitution of the country is being changed without any Constitutional amendment," said Mr Singh, pointing out that the system of administration in Delhi, as it stands today, was arrived at after 69 Constitutional amendments.
A constitutional amendment requires two-third majority in parliament -- not a simple majority -- for which the BJP lacks numbers in the Upper House.
The AAP government has regularly accused the BJP of trying to rule Delhi by proxy through the Lieutenant-Governor.
Most opposition parties, including the Congress, the Trinamool Congress, Lalu Yadav's Rashtriya Janata Dal, Shiv Sena, the ruling YSR Congress of Andhra Pradesh, and the Akali Dal had opposed the bill. The YSR Congress had walked out today in the middle of the debate.
AAP said the bill will not be accepted by the people and there will be protests, much like the farmers' protests. It also said one of the key reasons the bill was brought was Mr Kejriwal's support for the protesting farmers.
"Two crore people chose the government. What is our crime? All this was done because Kejriwal did not put farmers in jail when they came to Delhi. The bill must be cancelled," Mr Singh said.
"It is a matter of taking away the authority of the elected government here and giving it to LG. It is against the constitution. It should not become a law," said Congress's Mallikarjun Kharge.
Replying to the debate, Union Minister of State for Home Affairs G Kishan Reddy tried to respond to the opposition's concerns. The amendments, he said, have been brought to remove ambiguities in the 1991 Act and the changes were made in the spirit of a Supreme Court judgment. Earlier the Supreme Court had ruled that the Delhi government need not obtain the Lieutenant Governor's "concurrence" on every issue of day-to-day governance.
The amendments in the Act would create a sound government mechanism in Delhi, he said, by bringing in transparency and clarity, equity and inclusiveness and enhance accountability.