SC verdict on control over services: What tilted scales in Delhi’s favour

Source: The post is based on the article “SC verdict on control over services: What tilted scales in Delhi’s favour” published in Indian Express on 12th May 2023

What is the News?

The Supreme Court has ruled unanimously in favour of the Delhi government on the issue of who controls the bureaucracy in the national capital.

What was the issue before the Supreme Court?

In 2015, a Union Home Ministry notification said that the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi shall exercise control over “services”. 

The Delhi government challenged this before the Delhi High Court which in 2017 upheld the notification. On appeal, a two-judge Bench of the Supreme Court referred the issue to a larger constitutional Bench.

In 2018, a five-judge Constitution Bench in a unanimous verdict laid down the law that governs the relationship between Delhi and the Centre. The ruling was in favour of the Delhi government.

While the Constitution bench decided the larger questions, the specific issues were to be decided by a two-judge Bench. 

In 2019, two judges delivered a split verdict on the specific issue of “services.” The split verdict then went to a five-judge Constitution Bench, which has now delivered its verdict.

What was the issue before the Supreme Court?

The limited issue for the consideration of this Constitution Bench only relates to the scope of legislative and executive powers of the Centre and Delhi with respect to the term services.

Simply put, the court had to decide if it was the Delhi government or the Union government that had legislative and executive control over the capital’s bureaucracy.

What was the Central and State Government’s stand on the issue?

The Central Government has consistently maintained that because Delhi is the national capital and the face of the country, it must have control over administrative services, which include appointments and transfers.

On the other hand, the Delhi government has argued that in the interest of federalism, the elected representatives must have power over transfers and postings.

What was the Supreme Court’s verdict on this issue?

The Supreme Court has held that the Delhi government will have legislative and executive control over administrative services in the National Capital Territory of Delhi (NCTD) except with regard to public order, police and land.

The court said that the Delhi government, much like other States, represents the representative form of government and any further expansion of the Union’s power will be contrary to the Constitutional scheme.

The Court pointed out that if officers stop reporting to ministers or do not follow their instructions, the principle of collective responsibility will be affected.

Moreover, if the officers feel that they are insulated from the control of the elected government that they are serving, then they become unaccountable or may not show commitment towards their performance.

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