A Bill that gives the centre more power over Delhi moved one step closer to becoming law on Sunday, in a setback to Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal's government. The Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (Amendment) Bill, 2021 has been passed in the Lok Sabha and will now be taken up in the Rajya Sabha.
The Bill gives more powers to the Lieutenant Governor -- the centre's representative in Delhi -- compared to the city's elected government. It was brought in parliament last week, three years after a constitution bench of the Supreme Court ruled on the dispute between Delhi's ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government and the Lieutenant Governor.
The government claimed that the Bill would "further define" the responsibilities of the elected government and the Lieutenant Governor "in line with the constitutional scheme of governance... as interpreted by the Supreme Court."
Arvind Kejriwal called the development an "insult" to the people of Delhi.
"Passage of GNCTD amendment Bill in Lok Sabha today is an insult to the people of Delhi. The Bill effectively takes away powers from those who were voted by people and gives powers to run Delhi to those who were defeated. BJP has cheated the people," tweeted the Chief Minister.
Passage of GNCTD amendment Bill in Lok Sabha today is an insult to the people of Delhi. The Bill effectively takes away powers from those who were voted by people and gives powers to run Delhi to those who were defeated. BJP has cheated the people— Arvind Kejriwal (@ArvindKejriwal) March 22, 2021
Arvind Kejriwal, whose AAP won 62 of 70 seats in the 2020 Delhi election, leaving only eight for the BJP and none for the Congress, has often accused the BJP of trying to rule Delhi by proxy, through the Lieutenant Governor, and scuttling most of his plans and decisions.
The new Bill makes it clear that the term "government" in any law made by the Legislative Assembly will mean the Lieutenant Governor, whose opinion has to be taken before the Delhi government takes any action.
In 2018, a five-judge constitution bench of the Supreme Court had held that while the Lieutenant Governor must be informed about Delhi cabinet decisions, his concurrence was not needed except in the case of police, public order and land.
"The status of the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi is not that of a Governor of a State, rather he remains an administrator, in a limited sense, working with the designation of Lieutenant Governor," the judges had said.
The judges had ruled that the lieutenant governor is "bound by the aid and advice of the council of ministers" and that "the Lieutenant Governor has not been entrusted with any independent decision-making power". He had to "either act on the aid and advice of the council of ministers or implement the decision taken by the President on a reference being made by him".
If there was any difference of opinion between the elected government and the Lieutenant Governor, then it could be referred to the President.
The new Bill will most affect Mr Kejriwal, who has been heading the Delhi government since 2015 under the shadow of the centre's veto. The AAP government's power tussle with Najeeb Jung continued with his successor Anil Baijal. In 2018, the Chief Minister protested at the office of Mr Baijal after a number of his decisions were blocked.
The BJP's Manoj Tiwari dismissed allegations that his party was trying to grab more power. "The Bill is only aimed at removing any confusion. There is no question of grabbing power through the backdoor. AAP is trying to rule Delhi like a state instead of a Union Territory," he said.