NCT Bill 2021: Delhi’s Democratic Debacle

When in early 2020, the people of Delhi brought back Arvind Kejriwal to power as the Chief Minister of Delhi, they did not even have the slightest of trepidation that the elected government of Delhi would be reduced to a mere puppet in the hands of the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi by the Central Government. The President’s assent to the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (Amendment) Bill, 2021 has crushed the very soul of representative democracy. The Chief Minister and his cabinet are now obliged to take the opinion of the LG before passing any law or bill, thus restricting the powers of the Delhi Government.

The LG is an unelected head of the Union Territory of Delhi, appointed by the President, who is not accountable to the people of Delhi but to the Central Government. Democracy as a form of government holds the elected head accountable to the people with an option to dethrone them after a certain period if they do not find them suitable enough, but a bureaucrat like the LG cannot be overthrown from power by the people. The passing of the bill questions the representation of the people and their choices which is the very basis of a democratic government.

The Bill hinders the Legislative Assembly from making any law that relates to the day-to-day administration of Delhi and prohibits it from conducting any inquiry in relation to the administrative decisions. If an elected government is not allowed to conduct mundane affairs of people, what is the use of such a government which has to function not as per people’s will but as per the LG’s whim? Further, all such laws made before would be considered void. The LG can also reserve certain bills passed by the legislative assembly for consideration by the President. Keeping in mind the current tussle between the AAP and the BJP most of the bills would find it difficult to clear the President’s permission. On certain matters, it has been made mandatory for the Cabinet to seek LG’s opinion before taking any executive order. It is very clear that the intentions of the Bill are not to enhance democratic rule but to promote one-party rule.

The prior concurrence from the LG violates Article 239 AA (clause 4) of the Constitution. This article clearly states, “Chief Minister to aid and advise the LG in the exercise of his function”, but NCT Bill 2021 has reversed this order where the Chief Minister is bound to take the opinion of an unelected bureaucrat, the LG. The article also states that the elected government of Delhi has the power to make laws on any of the subjects in the state and concurrent list except land, public order and police.

The Supreme Court in 2018 had clearly stated that LG of NCT Delhi is bound by the aid and advice of the elected government of Delhi. It held the view that in a democracy real power is vested in the elected representatives and the LG cannot interfere in every decision of the Delhi Government. The Bill violates the Supreme Court order as it allows the LG to act in day-to-day affairs of the Delhi Government which can easily stall the functioning of an elected government. This threatens to limit the decision-making powers of the Government which were elected on the sole basis that people’s representatives would decide about the laws to be made and about the procedure of how people need to be governed.

The BJP has said that they have passed the law on the lines that since Delhi is a Union Territory, pertaining to all Indians they have enacted the law for the smooth functioning of the Capital City in coordination with the Central Government. This is a very clumsy explanation by the BJP which had promised statehood for Delhi if they were voted to power in the legislative elections. Now it has taken a U-turn by even denying the Government of Delhi its legislative and administrative powers. The major stakeholder in the process the Aam Aadmi Party which runs the Government of Delhi has opined that even after sweeping the polls with 62 out of 70 seats in the 2020 Delhi elections, they are not allowed to rule Delhi as per their will which is ultimately the will of the people of Delhi. Nothing can be more undemocratic and dictatorial.

The Central government has clearly stated on many instances that it is committed to cooperative federalism but in both letter and spirit, the NCT Bill 2021 is the latest example that it is not committed to any such thing, especially when it comes to States or UT’s where an opposition party is in power. It can be concluded that it believes in brute possession of power by dismantling elected governments leaving behind people to suffer. Some members of the ruling party have stated that they do not trust an anarchist as a Chief Minister, so this law is an effort to maintain oversight over him. Personal grudges have nothing to do with governing a nation or a state/UT. This reason is the gravest example of how low politics can go in terms of subduing a political opponent. Whatsoever may be the reason, a logical explanation up till now is missing.

India is going to celebrate 75 years of its independence in the year 2022 but still, people’s will is not given supreme importance, rather the government is resorting to undemocratic ways to rule its people. When the Constitution makers gave the Government different powers relating to amending the Constitution they never meant changing the very nature of representative democracy where it is turned into an unrepresentative democracy in the hands of an unelected executive.

The Motto of BJP – Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas, Sabka Vishwas would mean nothing until it is able to win Sabka Vishwas which can only bring people together (Sabka Saath) and when people are united as one force everyone’s development (Sabka Vikas) will automatically happen. Cooperation is one of the hallmarks of democracy, and it is only by cooperation a real democracy thrives.

By Vikram Bana

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