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A Prayer For Delhi: Restore Its Dignity, Grant It Statehood

Denial of statehood for Delhi has led to a subversion of basic democratic accountability.

Published
Opinion
5 min read
Jama Masjid, an iconic structure in Old Delhi.
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(This is the second in a 2-part series on Delhi’s demand for statehood. Read Part 1 here.)

Statehood for Delhi is a demand that has been perennially entrenched in the realpolitik of the territory – but one that has always been used more as a tool of ‘vote-incitement’ prior to elections rather than one meant to be fulfilled after a party comes to power.

At different epochs in Delhi’s political history both the grand old party, Congress and the right-wing nationalist Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) have voiced their support for granting statehood to Delhi but have done little more than making fatuous statements after coming to power.
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Why Delhi Deserves Statehood

  • Rule of Bureaucracy Is Not the Rule of the People: Delhi has a peculiar and sometimes befuddling di-archical structure of administration which was born out of the need to reconcile central government’s jurisdiction and control with the limited autonomy that Delhi has enjoyed over the years. For instance, in the present power structure, the elected chief minister and his Cabinet have no say in the issues pertaining to recruitment (be it IAS, DANICS, or Clerks), conditions of service and imposition of disciplinary processes action on unscrupulous officers. This power is vested with the L-G.
  • Clearly, in such a scenario, with no control over services, the ministers are unable to hold the officers accountable for their actions and as a result projects and welfare schemes are riddled with interminable delays. However, the general populace, which neither understands this nuance nor has time to go into constitutional nitty-gritties, holds the elected representatives accountable for any failures of the officers in the government machinery even when the ministers have been asked to run a ministry with both their hands tied behind their backs. This is clearly a subversion of a democratic polity like ours.
  • An administration run by officials and accountable to a former official (read: L-G) militates against the basic principles of democratic accountability and denies the common citizen the opportunity to air grievances. This anomaly was even recognised by the Committee on Reorganisation of Delhi Set-Up which remarked: “…it cannot be denied that democratically elected government provides…the most effective forum and feedback mechanism for people on a day-to-day basis…”
  • The same sentiment was echoed by erstwhile CM of Delhi, Madan Lal Khurana, in his remark,“…Today there is rule of bureaucracy in Delhi. The situation in Delhi is going from bad to worse. The reason is that bureaucrats who rule Delhi are not responsible to Delhi…”. Even Former President of India Pranab Mukherjee, stated in 2015: “…There can be no governance without a functioning legislature. The legislature reflects the will of the people…”
  • Delhi’s Governance Is Impeded by Multiplicity of Authorities: Delhi’s governance and administrative functions are shared by multiple authorities – the elected Delhi Government; 3 Municipal Corporations (East, North and South); New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) which caters to the New Delhi and Lutyens’ Zone Area; Delhi Cantonment Board (DCB) which caters to the Delhi Cantonment Region exclusively; Delhi Development Authority (DDA) which is exclusively vested with all matters pertaining to land in Delhi; Lieutenant Governor of Delhi (LG) who is responsible for matters pertaining to law & order, police, land; and the Government of India (GoI) which disposes of a variety of functions across the board. These authorities act with varying degrees of power and the considerable overlap in decision-making adds to the administrative and jurisdictional confusion.
  • Delhi has for the past half-century or so continued to suffer from a chaotic system of multiple authorities with overlapping jurisdictions and responsibilities. This multiplicity of authorities also leads to the erosion of their individual accountability and encourages officials and non-officials to interfere in the workings of these agencies without being held responsible for such interference.
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  • Delhi’s Current Status Is Antithetical to the Spirit of Federalism: To appreciate the interplay of federalism and Delhi’s status as a city-state, it is important to first understand the concept of federalism in the Indian context. The Supreme Court of India has, through its various rulings, re-affirmed two broad cardinal principles of federalism: (a) that the Indian Constitution seeks to propagate a federal model of is not res integra (open to questioning) (b) that the Indian Constitution enshrines all the basic principles and structures of a federal polity
  • However, the Indian system is a classic example of asymmetrical federalism – a system with uneven distribution of powers where some states have more autonomy than others. In the Indian framework, a Union of States is such that the existence of states is dependent on the Parliament of the Union. Delhi is a prime example suffering from the unspoken tyranny of asymmetry. Delhi, even though now far removed from the relatively lower status of a UT, has largely been relegated to the side-lines and still treated as a Central Government administered province of the yoke.
  • That Delhi elects its own legislature has not seen a significant shift in its administrative position over the years is because repeated governments at the Centre are careful to not cede autonomy to Delhi.

BJP’s Petty Politicking Is Hurting Delhi’s Interests

Arvind Kejriwal and AAP were elected to power through a historic landslide mandate which saw them bagging 67 out of 70 legislative assembly seats. The people of Delhi trusted Kejriwal to deliver the sweet fruit of good governance upon coming to power, certainly not the un-elected bureaucrats or the BJP appointed L-G. But would it not be every CM’s headache to fulfill his duty towards his people when he has been unfairly deprived of the full authority by the Central Government?

In a democratic setup like Delhi, there cannot be two reporting heads. The L-G cannot be placed, constitutionally, on a higher pedestal than the Governor of a full state and needs to act on the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers. However, in direct contravention of democratic norms and traditions, the L-G acts like an extra-constitutional authority with unheralded aplomb.

Before the 2013 Delhi Assembly Elections, BJP had promised statehood to Delhi in its manifesto but assumed an air of indifference when Delhi was denied that chance to form the government. A similar thing happened before the 2014 Lok Sabha Elections and the 2015 Delhi Assembly Elections.

Denial of Delhi’s statehood has led to subversion of basic democratic accountability under the watch of the Pradhan Sevak. Clearly, in placing its parochial political concerns over doing what is right, the BJP has done a gross disservice to the people of Delhi.

It is truly an unspeakable tragedy.

(Pranav Jain works with the AAP and Delhi government. He can be reached on Twitter at @pranavj142. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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