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The Government of NCT of Delhi (Amendment) Bill 2021- Explained, Pointwise

Introduction

The Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (Amendment) Bill, 2021 or the NCT of Delhi (Amendment) Bill 2021 got introduced in Lok Sabha. It amends certain provisions related to the distribution of powers and responsibilities among the L-G (Lieutenant Governor) and the Delhi legislative assembly. The issue of power tussle between the L-G and the elected government of Delhi has come into the limelight again. It is because of the introduction of this bill.

Key Provisions related to Delhi
  1. Delhi’s current status as a Union Territory with a Legislative Assembly is an outcome of the 69th Amendment Act. The act introduced Articles 239AA and 239BB in the Constitution.
    • They have created the Union Territory of Delhi with a legislative assembly.
    • Further, the administrator appointed under article 239 gets designated as the Lieutenant Governor. There shall be a council of ministers to aid and advise LG.
    • Lastly, provisions of public order, police and land are not under the jurisdiction of the Delhi government. The Centre will maintain these provisions.
  2. Article 239AA(4) mandates that in case of a difference of opinion between the L-G and the Council of Ministers, the L-G has to refer the issue to the President.
    • Until the decision is pending before the President, the L-G can use his discretion to take immediate action if urgency requires him/her to take an action.
  3. The GNCTD Act 1991 got passed to supplement the constitutional provisions relating to the Assembly and the Council of Ministers in the national capital. The act outlines few important provisions such as: 
    • the powers of the Assembly
    • the discretionary powers enjoyed by the L-G 
    • duties of the Chief Minister with respect to the need to furnish information to the L-G.
Salient features of the NCT of Delhi (Amendment) Bill 2021

The NCT of Delhi (Amendment) Bill mainly aims to amend four clauses of the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi Act, 1991 (GNCTD Act 1991). They are, 

  1. Section 21 – This section deals with the restrictions on laws passed by the Legislative Assembly concerning certain matters.
    • The Bill provides that the term “government” referred to in any law made by the Legislative Assembly will imply Lieutenant Governor (L-G).
  2. Section 24 – This section deals with assent to Bills passed by the Legislative Assembly. The L-G will reserve the bills for the consideration of the President in a few matters. It includes bills that diminish the powers of the High Court of Delhi, the President directed the L-G to reserve a bill, etc.
    • The NCT of Delhi (Amendment) Bill requires the L-G to reserve bills for the President that incidentally cover any of the matters outside the purview of the powers of the Legislative Assembly.
  3. Section 33- It mentions that the Legislative Assembly will make rules to regulate the procedure and conduct of business in the Assembly.
    • The 2021 NCT bill states that such rules must be consistent with the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in the Lok Sabha.
  4. Section 44 – It deals with the conduct of business. Accordingly, all executive decisions taken by the elected government should be under the L-G’s name. 
    • The 2021 bill empowers the L-G to specify his suggestions on certain matters. His opinions has to be taken before making any executive action on decisions of the Minister/ Council of Ministers.  
Background of LG and Delhi Government Relationship
  1. Frequent tussles have been witnessed between the Delhi government and the L-G of Delhi since 2015. 
  2. The primary reason behind it was the lack of clarity over Article 239AA. The proviso of Article 239AA(4) seems to give primacy to the L-G. Using this, the LG was able to undermine the will of the elected government.
  3. A case also filed on the court about the L-G’s power of discretion. In the

    Government of NCT of Delhi v. Union of India case 2018, the Supreme Court defined the limits of L-G’s discretionary powers. The important points of that judgement were,

    • L-G is bound by the aid and advice of the council of ministers except in subjects of land, public order and police.
    • Executive decisions do not need the concurrence of the Lieutenant General. Further, the court also held that the L-G has no powers to overrule the decisions of the elected government.
    • The difference of opinion has to be referred to the president under Article 239AA(4) provision.
      • The Lieutenant Governor cannot act mechanically and refer every decision to the president.
      • Only genuine cases of public interest can be referred to the President.
      • Before referring a bill to the President, the L-G has to consider the principles of collaborative federalism, the concept of constitutional governance, objectivity, etc.
    • Executive power rests with the council of ministers of NCT, Delhi. The union government has no overruling powers with respect to the executive powers.
Impact of Supreme Court Verdict on NCT of Delhi 
  • It established a situation of calm between the Delhi Government and the L-G.
  • The Delhi government stopped sending files on executive matters to the L-G before the implementation of decisions. This resulted in swifter decisions like: 
    1. Free bus rides to women, 
    2. Doorstep delivery of rations to the city’s residents, 
    3. Free electricity to households that are using less than 200 units of power 
    4. Mechanization of sewage cleaning operations
    5. Moreover, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the government restricted Delhi’s medical resources to its residents alone
Need for new NCT of Delhi (Amendment) Bill

The Centre introduced the bill in Lok Sabha by mentioning the needs of the bill which includes: 

  1. The Bill seeks to give effect to the 2018 judgement and implementing the verdict.
  2. The new Bill is also intended to promote cooperative federalism between the centre and the state.
  3. The Bill would address the ambiguities in the interpretation of legislative provisions.
Implications of NCT of Delhi (Amendment) Bill
  1. Equating the L-G with the government simply undermines the legitimacy of the elected government thereby disrespecting representative democracy.
  2. Further, The bill goes against the spirit of the 2018 verdict. The provisions such as getting the compulsory opinion from the L-G are against the verdict.
  3. The NCT of Delhi (Amendment) Bill restricts the Delhi government from inquiring into executive matters. The Delhi assembly at present is examining multiple issues ranging from riots to the environment. This disregards the ideal of democracy conceived for the NCT of Delhi by Article 239AA of the Constitution.
  4. The NCT of Delhi (Amendment) Bill if passed would be a huge setback for Delhi’s quest for full statehood. As the L-G gets precedence to the Delhi government.
  5. The bill empowers L-G to specify certain matters on which his opinion must be taken. This can curtail the autonomy that any elected government legitimately requires for governance.
  6. Providing excess powers to L-G can also distort the federal equilibrium. The centre can use this bill as a precedent to curtail the powers of other states in the future.
Suggestions
  1. The new bill should be reconsidered in the light of Justice D Y Chandrachud’s note in the 2018 verdict: “In a democratic form of government, the real power must subsist in the elected arms of the state”.
  2. A cautious discussion and deliberation should take place between the Centre and Delhi government on the ambiguous provision of the bill. This will help in the eradication of unconstitutional and undemocratic provisions.
  3. Apart from that, the government at the centre and state must cooperate to make sure that L-G can discharge its constitutional function. At the same time, they need to avoid L-G doesn’t become a hindrance to development.

Conclusion:

The government must reconsider the NCT of Delhi (Amendment) Bill as per the advice of the Supreme Court. The revamped provisions should enable L-G to act as a facilitator for upholding the law of the land and constitutional provisions.

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