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Delhi in dire straits

Delhi in dire straits
Highlights

From power to appoint a Chief Secretary to that of arresting a constable – a Delhi High Court verdict has seriously impacted the ongoing Centre-State turf war, actually an avoidable political slugfest that is hurtling towards a constitutional crisis. The judgment rejects the bail plea of a Delhi police constable detained by the Delhi government’s Anti Corruption Bureau

There are several grey areas in Centre-State powers. This is particularly so in the case of Delhi

From power to appoint a Chief Secretary to that of arresting a constable – a Delhi High Court verdict has seriously impacted the ongoing Centre-State turf war, actually an avoidable political slugfest that is hurtling towards a constitutional crisis. The judgment rejects the bail plea of a Delhi police constable detained by the Delhi government’s Anti Corruption Bureau (ACB). Instead of a simple ‘granted’ or ‘rejected’ order, it runs into 37 pages, raising a host of constitutional issues.


For one, the court found ‘suspect,’ the Centre’s notification giving Lt Governor absolute powers over an elected government. ‘Suspect’ or not, such powers do negate parliamentary democracy. At the root of the crisis is unwillingness of successive Union governments to define power-sharing with the States. At least 18 Supreme Court judgments have favoured the States, but there are an equal number or more verdicts that favour the Centre. The opinion is divided, just as it is on the latest verdict that is bound to be challenged.


There are several grey areas in Centre-State powers. This is particularly so in the case of Delhi, which is neither a Union Territory it used to be, nor is it a full-fledged State as a score of others are. And India, as per the Constitution, is a quasi-federal state.

At the root, also, is reluctance of successive union governments to grant Delhi full statehood. Historically, it is a never-never issue, although not spelt so. If the Congress did not do it, the BJP, advocating it for long, but not doing anything when it ruled at the Centre, is showing no signs of granting statehood, now that Aam Aadmi Party controls it with a brute majority.


There is, and should be, a constant move towards federalism leading to more political, administrative and financial powers. It is a gradual process, since no individual, no institution easily gives up power. The Constitution is a living document. To its credit, the Modi government has laid new grounds in making States less dependent on the Centre.


Why can’t it resolve Delhi’s peculiar case? It should heed the advice of legal experts. K K Venugopal and Gopal Subramaniam have rightly opined against the Lt Governor’s overweening powers vis-a-vis a state. Whatever Justice Vipin Sanghis’ verdict, Kejriwal, too, will have to be ready to reason.

One outcome of the High Court judgment is that it may have prevented for the time being, Kejriwal, as is his wont, from staging yet another sit-in before Parliament. The Centre has called the verdict ‘perverse’ and will challenge it. It is red-faced for now and Kejriwal is jubilant. But public would like this tangle to be debated in a proper forum and resolved. They are not amused at this massive and avoidable waste of time and energy of people who ought to govern better than they do.

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