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Delhi Statehood: Needs a Solution

Delhi Statehood: Needs a Solution

Another Agitation Brewing:

- Prof. Ujjwal K Chowdhury

Come Sunday, July 1, Aam Aadmi Party, is going ahead with a huge rally to demand Delhi Statehood in the Indira Gandhi Stadium of Delhi, and is going to make it their major electoral plan in the 2019 Lok Sabha and 2020 Vidhan Sabha elections. The AAP volunteers have also embarked upon a door-to-door campaign to get one million Delhi citizens ratify their demand of statehood.

This was an electoral promise of AAP in 2015, and to this end, the AAP government has only been able to pass a resolution in the state assembly calling for full statehood and passing a draft bill for the same; Kejriwal had earlier called for a keenly debated referendum in the city-state; and a renewed agitation now starts from July 1 ahead.

The draft bill passed by the AAP government in the Assembly says that Delhi being the national capital can be divided into two parts. What is commonly known as Lutyens' Delhi and is administratively governed by the NDMC Act should be under the direct control of the central government, given the sensitivities involved and the experience of national capitals world over. This resolution also notes that the rest of Delhi can no longer be denied its full statehood right. It brings to attention, the bill introduced by then deputy prime minister and home minister, LK Advani, in the Lok Sabha on August 18, 2003 as the guiding document.

Interestingly, 2009 and 2014 Delhi Assembly polls manifestos of Congress and BJP also included the promise of Delhi statehood on similar lines. While Congress continued with its promise in 2015 polls too, it could not win a single seat in the Assembly, BJP changed its stance in 2015. It did not release a manifesto for the Delhi Assembly polls and instead decided upon a 'vision document.' The indecision over Delhi statehood was the real reason behind the vision document.

The reason for both the BJP and Congress to oppose statehood at this juncture appears to be that both these established parties have a common goal i.e ensuring that the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government fails in Delhi so that these two can bounce back.

London Mayor in a Unitary Nation, United Kingdom:

An interesting parallel that experts draw upon is the growing authority of the London Mayor governing the City of London in a unitary country, UK. In contrast, India is a Union of States, with many federal features ingrained in the constitutional system here.

The Mayor of London is a part of the Greater London Authority (GLA). The Authority consists of both the Mayor and the London Assembly, which is tasked for overseeing the Mayor's activities. The Mayor's powers can be understood as being split into general powers and specific powers. The top line functions of the Mayor are promoting economic development and wealth creation in Greater London; promoting social development in Greater London; and promoting the improvement of the environment in Greater London. These powers have been modified since the setting up of the GLA - the major revision is mainly related to increase the Mayor's powers in housing, planning, waste and climate change. The Greater London Authority was originally set up with 'functional arms' which operate separately but whose 'strategic directions' are set by the Mayor: Transport for London; Metropolitan Police Authority (MPA); and London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority.

The other major power of the Mayor is to set the annual budget for the GLA, amounting to more than £12 billion. A significant part of his role is negotiating with central government for funding in order to improve London's infrastructure. He also has "powers of direction" over the functional bodies and the Metropolitan Police. On housing, the Mayor can produce a housing strategy that allows him or her to recommend the amount, type and location of new housing built in London. Mayor has powers over 'strategic' planning which means he can, instead of a local planning authority, give permission to projects he or she considers important to London's development. The Mayor can also set a 'waste management strategy' influencing the collection and disposal of people's waste. Further to this, the Mayor is required to publish a 'climate change mitigation and energy strategy' separately, as well as including these considerations in ordinary strategies.

It is being argued that today the powers in the hands of the elected government of Delhi city-state do not even match those of the London Mayor.

Fundamental Constitutional Questions:

The cardinal questions that AAP government's continued conflict with the Centre has thrown up are fundamental to the functioning of an electoral democracy. Does an elected government have the right to make policies and implement them?

The Delhi state is governed by an elected state government, nominated Lt Governor; Delhi Development Authority under LG, SDMC under Centre, all land under Central Urban Development Ministry, Delhi Police under Central Home Ministry, services of all staff under Central Home Ministry, Delhi Cantonment under Defence Ministry, and civic affairs under other Municipal Corporations. This maze of multiple agencies, with overlapping authorities is a natural breeding ground for mis-governance, mis-communication, and non-cooperation stalling work.

Response of the Indian Opposition:

Interestingly, unlike the last time around during the Kejriwal dharna of the winter of 2014, this time in the summer of 2018, a plethora of regional parties, significantly SP, RJD, JDU, JDS, RLD, NCP, TMC, TDP, TRS, DMK, CPI and CPM have expressed complete support to the recent sit-in Dharna of the AAP CM on this centre-state conflict and statehood, and the Congress is understandably seen on the same side of BJP. Congress stands stems from the fact that AAP has decimated Congress to come to power, and is it's major challenger in Punjab. It is focussing on building its organization bottoms-up in states which are bipolar between Congress and BJP. But, the current stoicism of Congress would rather make it suspect in the eyes of various regional parties and is not in the interests of its 2019 plans.

Sheila Regime to Kejriwal Regime: Some Constitutional Differences:

Dikshit's party was in power in Delhi and at the Centre for 10 years. She could have had the L-Gs of her choice, and most importantly, she did not have to face the May 21, 2015 notification issued by the Union ministry of home affairs, barely three months after the AAP won 67 of 70 seats in Delhi Assembly. This MHA notification took away services and the Anti Corruption Bureau (ACB) from Delhi government — meaning all transfers and postings and the ACB were placed under the direct control of the L-G (meaning the central government). On August 4, 2016, the Delhi High Court interpreted this notification to rule that the L-G is the administrator of Delhi and the aid and advice of council of ministers is not binding on him. This matter will finally be settled by the Constitution bench of the Supreme Court, where the arguments concluded on December 6, 2017, and the judgment has been reserved since then.

Democracy Makes the Electorate Speak the Final Word:

A lot depends on what the citizens of Delhi would do. Would they uphold the ideals of a democracy that our forefathers enshrined in our constitution? Will Delhi show the way to the entire country? Democracy is actually all about co-existence of competitive ideologies and strategies. Bereft of that, it is nothing but fascism of one variety or the other. Hence, competing ideas, parties and policies are actually a strength of democracy in the real sense. Shall the electorate preserve that ahead? Shall the rulers at the Centre and the City-state protect it?

(The author is a distinguished media academic and columnist, having been the Dean of Symbiosis and Amity Universities. Views expressed here are his personal).


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