On August 7, 2023, the Rajya Sabha approved the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (Amendment) Bill, 2023. The Bill garnered 131 votes in favour and 102 against.
This move comes as a setback for Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, as the Bill proposes to empower the Central government with the authority to regulate appointments, transfers and terms of Delhi Government officers and employees. The Bill highlights the complexities of governance and jurisdiction in the national capital.
What is Delhi Services Bill?
The Delhi Services Bill, officially known as the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (Amendment) Bill, 2023, aims to empower the Lieutenant Governor (LG) of Delhi with significant authority and alter the power balance between the elected government and bureaucrats.
The National Capital Civil Services Authority (NCCSA) will be established, consisting of the Chief Minister, Chief Secretary, and Principal Home Secretary of Delhi. This body’s role is to recommend to the LG on matters such as transfers, postings and disciplinary proceedings of senior officers.
The Bill provides for a Joint Selection Committee (JSC) to appoint bureaucrats in the Delhi government. The JSC will have equal representation from the central and Delhi governments.
Background of the Bill
In August 2016, the Government of NCT of Delhi versus Union of India was a civil appeal heard before the Supreme Court of India by a five-judge constitution bench of the court. The case was filed as an appeal to the Delhi High Court verdict that ruled that the LG of Delhi exercised “complete control of all matters regarding NCT of Delhi” and was heard by the Supreme Court in December 2017.
The Supreme Court gave its final judgment on July 4 2018, expressing that the LG had no independent decision-making powers and was bound to follow the “aid and advice” of the Delhi chief-minister-headed council of ministers of the Government of Delhi on all matters except those pertaining to police, public order and land.
Why is the Bill now giving birth to a controversy?
The Bill originates from the longstanding power struggle between the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led Union government. The Delhi government’s control over senior officers’ services, appointments and transfers has been an issue since the Delhi High Court ruled in favour of the elected government in 2016. However, the power dynamic shifted when the central government promulgated an ordinance in May 2023 to assert its authority over these matters, bypassing the court’s decision.
Arvind Kejriwal (Delhi CM) expressed this marks a dark moment in the history of Indian democracy. The Bill appears to symbolize the subjugation of Delhi’s citizens. He went on to say that after 75 years of being an independent nation, the prime minister’s actions have constrained the autonomy of the people of Delhi.
During the debate in the Rajya Sabha, Union Home Minister Amit Shah addressed concerns by emphasizing that the Bill does not contradict the Supreme Court’s ruling. Shah said the Bill intends to establish effective and corruption-free governance in the national capital. He assured fellow members that no aspect of the prevailing system had been altered, dating back to the Congress regime. The minister also justified the initial ordinance by stating that the AAP-led Delhi government had reassigned officers within the vigilance department due to their involvement in the liquor scam.
“So much haste was shown concerning the vigilance department by Delhi government because it had files related to ‘excise policy scam‘ and ‘sheesh-mahal,'” he said.
Addressing the Lok Sabha, Congress MP Shashi Tharoor strongly criticized the Delhi Services Bill during a debate, asserting that it clearly violates the constitutional principle of separation of powers. He claimed that the Bill signifies the emergence of “coercive federalism” within the country.
The Bill’s implications extend beyond Delhi’s borders, raising concerns about the balance of power between elected governments and the central government in Union Territories. As the Bill moves for further deliberation, the larger questions of democratic governance and constitutional propriety continue to loom.