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The Government of NCT of Delhi (Amendment) Bill, 2021

The Government of NCT of Delhi (Amendment) Bill, 2021
  • When the Constitution came into force, there were four kinds of States, called Parts A,B, C and D States, with the last two being administered by centrally appointed Chief Commissioners and Lieutenant Governors, with no locally elected Assemblies to aid and advise them.
  • Delhi as the National Capital, belonged to the nation as a whole. It was felt that if Delhi became a part of any constituent State of the Union, that State would sooner or later acquire a predominant position in relation to other States. 
  • There is a need for keeping the National Capital under the control of the Union Government was deemed to be vital in the national interest. 
  • It was felt that if Delhi became a full State, the administration of the National Capital would be divided into rigid compartments of the State field and Union field. Conflicts would likely arise in vital matters, particularly if the two governments were run by different political parties. Hence, Delhi was initially made a Part C State. Its population then was around 14 lakh people.

Evolution of Administration in New Delhi

  • Constitutional status: In 1951, a Legislative Assembly was created with an elected Chief Minister. Chaudhary Brahm Prakash became the first Chief Minister in 1952. However, a prolonged stand-off with the Chief Commissioner, and later the Union Home Minister, Govind Ballabh Pant, over issues of jurisdictions and functional autonomy, eventually led to his resignation, in 1955. 
  • States Reorganisation Act: In 1956, when the Constitution of India was amended to implement the provisions of the States Reorganisation Act, only two categories, namely, States and Union Territories remained in the Indian Union. Thus, Delhi then became a Union Territory to be administered by an Administrator appointed by the President. The Legislative Assembly of Delhi and the Council stood abolished, despite loud protests in Parliament.
  • Delhi Administration Act, 1966:  Ten years later, the Delhi Administration Act, 1966 provided for a limited representative Government in Delhi through a Metropolitan Council comprising 56 elected Members and five nominated Members. This structure continued for many years, with repeated political demands for full statehood to be granted to Delhi.
  • Balakrishnan Committee:  In 1987, the Balakrishnan Committee was set up to submit its recommendations with regard to the status to be conferred on Delhi.  In 1989, the Committee recommended that Delhi should continue to be a Union Territory but that there must be a Legislative Assembly and Council of Ministers responsible to the said Assembly with appropriate powers; and to ensure stability, appropriate constitutional measures should be taken to confer the National Capital a special status.  Based on this report, the Constitution (69th) Amendment Act and the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (GNCT) Act, 1991 were passed.  This limited reincarnation has continued to hold the field to date, despite several efforts to progress to full or near-statehood.

Recent trends : 

  • The Lok Sabha elections of 2014 and 2019 and the Delhi Assembly elections of 2015 and 2020, have resulted in huge mandates to personality-led governments, from different parties which lead to constitutional questions on Delhi’s peculiar. 
  • The Supreme Court said that Parliament envisaged a representative form of Government for the NCT of Delhi. 
  • The said provision intends to provide for the Capital a directly elected Legislative Assembly which shall have legislative powers over matters falling within the State List and the Concurrent List, barring those excepted, and a mandate upon the Lieutenant Governor to act on the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers except when he decides to refer the matter to the President for final decision”. 
  • The Constitution has mandated a federal balance wherein independence of a certain required degree is assured to the State Governments. As opposed to centralism, a balanced federal structure mandates that the Union does not usurp all powers and the States enjoy freedom without any unsolicited interference from the Central Government with respect to matters which exclusively fall within their domain.”
  • The issues of governance, especially in the matter of control over Delhi government servants

Government of NCT of Delhi (Amendment) Bill, 2021

  • The Bill amends the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi Act, 1991.  The Act provides a framework for the functioning of the Legislative Assembly and the government of the National Capital Territory (NCT) of Delhi.  The Bill amends certain powers and responsibilities of the Legislative Assembly and the Lieutenant Governor.
  • Restriction on laws passed by the Assembly: The Bill provides that the term “government” referred to in any law made by the Legislative Assembly will imply Lieutenant Governor (LG). 
  • Rules of Procedure of the Assembly: The Act allows the Legislative Assembly to make Rules to regulate the procedure and conduct of business in the Assembly.  The Bill provides that such Rules must be consistent with the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in the Lok Sabha.
  • Inquiry by the Assembly into administrative decisions: The Bill prohibits the Legislative Assembly from making any rule to enable itself or its Committees to: (i) consider the matters of day-to-day administration of the NCT of Delhi and (ii) conduct any inquiry in relation to administrative decisions.   Further, the Bill provides that all such rules made before its enactment will be void.
  • Assent to Bills: The Act requires the LG to reserve certain Bills passed by the Legislative Assembly for the consideration of the President.  These Bills are those: (i) which may diminish the powers of the High Court of Delhi, (ii) which the President may direct to be reserved, (iii) dealing with the salaries and allowances of the Speaker, Deputy Speaker, and members of the Assembly and the Ministers, or (iv) relating to official languages of the Assembly or the NCT of Delhi.  The Bill requires the LG to also reserve those Bills for the President which incidentally cover any of the matters outside the purview of the powers of the Legislative Assembly.
  • LG’s opinion for executive actions: The Act specifies that all executive action by the government, whether taken on the advice of the Ministers or otherwise, must be taken in the name of the LG.  The Bill adds that on certain matters, as specified by the LG, his opinion must be obtained before taking any executive action on the decisions of the Minister/ Council of Ministers.  

Consequences of the Bill:

  • The Bill effectively reduces the elected government to a mere vestigial organ and elevates the centrally appointed LG, to the position of a Viceroy with plenipotentiary powers. Simply put, the elected government in Delhi can do nothing, if the LG does not permit them to so do. 
  • The Supreme Court has already cautioned — “Interpretation cannot ignore the conscience of the Constitution. If the expressions in case of difference and on any matter are construed to mean that the Lieutenant Governor can differ on any proposal, the expectation of the people which has its legitimacy in a democratic set-up, although different from States as understood under the Constitution, will lose its purpose in simple semantics.”
  • The population of Delhi which counts among the highest in the world, will have an unrepresentative administration.
  • It will be ruled by an appointed LG, who can only be changed if the rest of the country, decides to change the Central government. 
  • There can be no recourse to the ballot box to hold to account an unelected, centrally appointed government functionary.