Mayor Kejriwal, Not Chief Minister Kejriwal: Delhi Should Become UT Again With Effective Municipal Power

R Jagannathan

Aug 08, 2023, 11:52 AM | Updated 11:52 AM IST

Aam Aadmi Party chief and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. (Sushil Kumar/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)
Aam Aadmi Party chief and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. (Sushil Kumar/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)
  • A Union Territory with adequate power to deliver day-to-day services to its people is good enough.
  • Any party ruling at the Centre will have less reason to thwart a Mayor Kejriwal than a Chief Minister Kejriwal.
  • The passing of the Delhi Services Bill, which reverts control of Delhi’s bureaucracy back to the Centre, will surely be challenged for its constitutionality in the Supreme Court.

    The Bill, the Government of National Capital Territory (Amendment) Bill, 2023, seeks to negate the 11 May verdict of a five-judge constitution bench which said that control of administrative services in areas outside land, police and public order shall rest with the Delhi government.

    The Chief Justice of India-led bench said: “The legislative and executive power of the Government of the National Capital Territory of Delhi (GNCTD) over entry 41 shall not extend over to services related to public order, police and land. However, legislative and executive power over services such as IAS or joint cadre services, which are relevant for the implementation for the policies and the vision of NCTD in terms of day to day administration of the region, shall lie with the NCTD.”

    Prima facie this is sensible, for no government can function if the bureaucracy is not accountable to it.

    However, the real issue is not the tussle over control of the bureaucracy, but something political that goes unstated: it is about Arvind Kejriwal’s decision to use Delhi’s resources to project himself on the national stage. 

    The reason why this problem did not surface earlier under chief ministers from both the BJP and the Congress is simple: their parties did not intend to use Delhi’s resources for personal political benefit.

    This meant that even though administrative services were controlled by the Lt Governor of Delhi, who is appointed by the Centre, chief ministers got their work done through behind-the-scenes negotiations and persuasion.

    For Kejriwal that was not good enough. He wanted to use Delhi’s high revenues to both project himself nationally, and to use the bureaucracy for the same purpose.

    This is why, within hours of the 11 May verdict in his favour, he removed the services secretary and appointed his own man. He further threatened to take action against any bureaucrat who allegedly thwarted the government on the implementation of its policies.

    The Centre moved equally fast the next week and issued an ordinance to create a three-member panel with the Chief Minister as head, but with two bureaucrats who would then collectively decide on key transfers. In effect, two bureaucrats could over-rule the Chief Minister.

    It is this ordinance that was converted into a Bill and passed by the Rajya Sabha yesterday (7 August) with a 131-102 vote in its favour. The Lok Sabha had passed the bill last week through a voice vote.

    The problem here, as stated earlier, is not about whether the Chief Minister should have the power to appoint his own bureaucrats, but the over-ambitious nature of one Chief Minister who refused to play by the accepted rules.

    The political issue is simple. As the national capital, a Delhi state government cannot have pre-eminence in any matter related to the state without effective consultations with the Centre.

    The principle is that a higher government cannot be left out of the picture in key decisions involving the territory from which it operates, where many central ministries and diplomatic missions exist.

    This is how explains Washington DC’s unique status as a territory without its own representation in Congress. DC’s administration depends on Congressional approvals. It is a district, not a regular state.

    The US constitution, says the article, allowed for the creation of a national capital over which Congress would have exclusive legislative authority. The reason for its isolation (and limited rights relative to other states) was, according to James Madison, to ensure that no state would have too much power over the Centre.

    But this is precisely what Arvind Kejriwal wants. Power in Delhi state in order to project himself as a future Prime Minister, and whose writ runs in the national capital.

    When Delhi was created as a state in the 1990s without the full powers of regular states, there was a presumption that the state would remain focused on municipal powers, and not challenge the dominance of the Centre.

    This was not what Kejriwal intended. He wanted to use the state’s huge resources for personal political advancement. He used hundreds of crores of rupees to extend freebies on power and water, and then claimed this was a Delhi model replicable in other states. He then proceeded to use many more crores to project himself as the nation’s saviour.

    As I noted in an article in Swarajya last year, “the Kejriwal model is to spend unlimited amounts on advertising himself, using resources from five Delhi corporations.

    According to an RTI reply, over the last decade Delhi’s advertising expenses have mounted 4,200 per cent, to reach a massive Rs 489 crore in 2021-22. It is obvious that Kejriwal is using Delhi’s resources to expand his rule to other states. Most of his advertising is national, which means it is not about communicating just with his Delhi voters.”

    But while this helped Kejriwal himself, his party needed money too. It is no coincidence that two of Kejriwal’s ministers, former deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia, and Satyendar Jain, are in jail over corruption charges. Regardless of whether they are finally shown to be corrupt or not, clearly the party that claimed to be above corruption has something to answer for.

    There are only two ways out. 

    One is to revert Delhi back to a full-fledged Union Territory. The other is to bifurcate Delhi into a full-fledged state unit, one part where Kejriwal (or any other party) can rule, and leave the rest as a Centrally-administered Union Territory. 

    The best solution is the former one. It is clean, and there is no messy bifurcation to be done. The Centre would have done better to revert Delhi back to a full-fledged Union Territory instead of a half-state that is neither here nor there — but still a thorn in its flesh.

    A Union Territory with adequate power to deliver day-to-day services to its people is good enough. Any party ruling at the Centre will have less reason to thwart a Mayor Kejriwal than a Chief Minister Kejriwal.

    Jagannathan is Editorial Director, Swarajya. He tweets at @TheJaggi.

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