June 14, 2015

Brazen Assault on States’ Rights

THE manner in which the central government headed by Narendra Modi is assaulting the rights of an elected state government is truly brazen.  For the past few weeks, the lieutenant governor of Delhi, Najeeb Jung, has been taking one arbitrary decision after another bypassing the chief minister and the council of ministers.  The Lt. Governor has been indulging in this unconstitutional and undemocratic behaviour at the behest of the Modi government and the home ministry.

The Kejriwal government was installed in Delhi in February this year after the Aam Admi Party won an unprecedented mandate winning 67 out of the 70 seats.  The BJP which got a miserable three seats should have respected the people’s mandate. The central government should have ensured  amicable and equitable relations with the state government.  This is all the more necessary given the fact that Delhi is the national capital.  But what has been unfolding in Delhi is a naked attack on the rights of the Delhi government and the legislative assembly by a centre determined to thwart the functioning of the Kejriwal government.

The Lt. Governor, bypassing the chief minister, appointed an acting chief secretary when the incumbent chief secretary went on leave for ten days.  Subsequently, the Lt. Governor has been deciding on postings of senior officials and canceling any decision on posting by the chief minister and the Delhi cabinet.  The latest instance being  the appointment of the chief of the Anti-Corruption Bureau by the Lt. Governor without as much as a consultation with the chief minister followed by the unwarranted arrest of the law minister on charges of  forging his degree certificate.

It is true that Delhi is a union territory and does not have full statehood.  But according to the Indian Constitution (Article 239 AA), the central government has powers only over public order, police and land. All other subjects enumerated in the States List are within the power of the state government.  The same clause in the Constitution provides that the council of ministers will aid and advise the Lt. Governor.  The National Capital Territory of Delhi Act also conforms to this Constitutional directive that the Lt. Governor has to act on the advice of the chief minister on matters within the remit of the legislative assembly.

Yet, the Modi government, through the Lt. Governor, has snatched away the right of the chief minister to decide who should be the chief secretary of the administration.  In order to justify this illegal action, the home ministry issued a notification on May 21 which stated that `services’ fall under the purview of the central government.  This meant that all the employees of the Delhi government will come under the control of the central government. Many Constitutional lawyers have characterised this as devoid of any legality or Constitutional basis.  The eminent Constitutional lawyer K K Venugopal called the notification “unconstitutional, illegal and void”.  

Whatever one may think of the Kejriwal government’s policies and political stances, there can be no ambiguity about the rights of an elected state government within the Constitutional framework.  The Narendra Modi government has been talking of ushering in an era of “cooperative federalism”. The Delhi example makes this a cruel joke.  Given the centralising of all powers within the central government and the administration in the prime minister’s hands, centre-state relations are also becoming a victim of this authoritarian centralisation. Having abolished the Planning Commission and consequently the special outlays for the special category states, all the North-eastern states have been protesting about the de facto nullification of their special category status.  For weeks now, the chief ministers of the North-eastern states have been asking for an appointment with the prime minister to discuss the matter. But the prime minister does not even have the time to give an appointment to the seven chief ministers.

The issue in Delhi should not be seen as some squabble between the Lt. Governor Najeeb Jung and Chief Minister Kejriwal.  It has highlighted the authoritarian approach of the centre  towards the states.  The assault on the state’s rights and the federal principle happening in Delhi should be strongly opposed. The Lt. Governor has to be removed for violating the Constitutional principle. Narendra Modi and the BJP government cannot be allowed to get away with such willful attacks on the federal and Constitutional set-up.