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National Capital Territory of Delhi vs Centre: control over the bureaucrats

In this article, we have discussed the recent judgment of the supreme court on the National Capital Territory of Delhi. It states that the Lieutenant Governor must follow the Delhi government’s ruling on services, except for those pertaining to public order, police, and land. (Source: The Hindu, 11th May 2023)

What is the context?

The Supreme Court Finally resolved the issue of the Delhi vs Centre conflict.

  • National Capital Territory of Delhi: National Capital Territory of Delhi has the authority to legislate and execute administrative services in the National Capital.
  • Central Government: Central government has the authority to legislate on issues pertaining to public order, police, and land.
  • Lieutenant Governor: The decision mandates that the Lieutenant Governor must follow the Delhi government’s ruling on services, except for those pertaining to public order, police, and land.
Supreme Court of India Grants Delhi Government Control Over Administrative Services
  • On May 11, 2023, the Supreme Court of India’s Constitution Bench delivered a verdict.
  • The verdict granted legislative and executive power over administrative services to the National Capital Territory of Delhi (NCTD). It left the responsibility of public order, police, and land matters  to central government.
  • The decision differed from Justice Ashok Bhushan’s position in the 2019 split verdict, where he had stated that services fell entirely outside the Delhi Government’s jurisdiction.
  • The verdict resolves  the dispute between Delhi government and the Union government over the control of administrative services in the National Capital Territory of Delhi.

The key points of the verdict :

  1. Services are under control
  •  If services were out of the legislative and executive domain of the Ministers and Executive of NCTD charged with formulating policies in the territory, they would not have control over civil service officers.
  • NCTD would possess legislative and executive power over services such as Indian Administrative Services or Joint Cadre Service.  It is necessary for implementing policies and fulfilling the vision of NCTD in terms of day-to-day administration of the region.
        2. Lieutenant Governor has obligation
  • The Lieutenant Governor has obligation to follow the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers of NCTD with regard to matters within the legislative scope of NCTD.
         3. Principle of representative democracy and federalism
  • A democratic form of government must uphold the principle of representative democracy. The elected arm of the government must have the power of administration.
  • The Delhi government, like other states, represents the representative form of government. Any further expansion of Union’s power will contravene the Constitutional scheme.
  • The principle of democracy and federalism form a part of basic structure. Federalism ensures the survival of diverse interests and accommodates diverse needs.
          4. Autonomy
  • The executive power of Union in a state is restricted over matters on which both union and states can legislate. It guarantees that the state’s administration functions with autonomy from the union.
  •  The legislative structure of Article 239AA excludes Entries 1, 2, and 18 of List II to Schedule VII (public order, police, and land) from the power of the Delhi legislative assembly. The Union of India has executive power only over these three entries.
Supreme court highlighted

“If those in power do not grant a democratically elected government the authority to oversee officers, the principle of triple chain of accountability becomes ineffective. It will compromise the principle of collective responsibility If officers fail to report to the Ministers or disobey their directives. If the legislative and executive branches are unable to govern “services”, then the Ministers will be unable to control civil servants who are responsible for executing executive decisions.”

What is ‘triple chain of accountability’?
  • The bench emphasized the importance of the triple chain of command that connects civil servants to the people of the country or any of its federal units.
  • This triple chain of accountability requires civil service officers to be accountable to the ministers of an elected government who they work under. In turn, the ministers are accountable to parliament or state legislatures, which are ultimately accountable to the people. In a parliamentary democracy, sovereignty vests in the people.
  • Supreme court  commented that civil services play an essential role in ensuring democratic accountability under the Westminster parliamentary democracy.
Collaborative federalism
  • In 2018, a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court advised the Centre and the Delhi government to adopt “collaborative federalism” to improve their relationship.
  • Collaborative federalism means the Centre and the State Governments should work together to achieve common objectives. Also, Both should put aside their differences and show statesmanship in their relationship.
  • The court recognized that the Centre and Delhi government were interdependent. It advised for continuous and seamless interaction between the Union and the State Governments to achieve their shared objectives.

The way ahead

1.Collaborative federalism:

The 2018 Constitution Bench advised a “collaborative federalism” approach. Consequently, the Delhi government accuses the Centre of eroding federalism. It contends that it requires control over transfers and postings of officers. Conversely, the Centre argues that Delhi is a sprawling metropolis and under its control.

2.Enhancing governance

In light of this, the Delhi government should exercise its newfound authority over administrative services. With this authority, it can enhance governance in the National Capital Territory. By formulating and implementing policies through civil service officers, the day-to-day administration will improve.

3.Promoting representative democracy

Furthermore, the Delhi government should prioritize promoting representative democracy. It is crucial that the elected arm of the government retains power in administration. Simultaneously, the Union government must acknowledge the limitations of its executive power over the National Capital Territory. It should work harmoniously with the Delhi government to ensure good governance.

4.Fostering cooperative federalism

The Union government should refrain from encroaching upon the legislative and executive domains of the Delhi government. Instead, it should focus on fostering cooperative federalism nationwide.

Ultimately, both the Delhi government and the Union government should collaborate. Their joint efforts will lead to the common goal of improving governance in Delhi. The recent verdict provides an opportunity for both governments to unite and work towards this shared objective.

UPSC CSE Possible mains questions
  1. If a democratically elected government is not given the power to control the officers, the principle of triple chain of accountability will be redundant. Comment.
  2. What is the triple chain of accountability, and why is it important in a parliamentary democracy?
  3. What is collaborative federalism, and why is it necessary for the Centre and the State Governments to work together to achieve common objectives?
  4. What is the way ahead for the Delhi government and the Union government in light of the recent Supreme Court verdict, and how can they work together to improve governance in the National Capital Territory of Delhi?

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