Delhi vs Centre row: SC holds Delhi government has control over administrative services

However, the court also said that Delhi government’s control over services shall not extend to entries related to public order, police and land

Updated - May 11, 2023 05:22 pm IST

Published - May 11, 2023 12:57 pm IST

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. | Photo Credit: ANI

In a blow to the Centre, the Supreme Court on May 11 gave the Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party regime power to make laws and wield control over bureaucrats deputed to the Delhi government departments while declaring that civil service officers are “politically-neutral professionals” who serve the people and not political parties.

“A constitutionally entrenched and democratically elected government needs to have control over its administration. The administration comprises of several public officers, who are posted in the services of a particular government, irrespective of whether or not that government was involved in their recruitment,” Chief Justice Chandrachud, who wrote the 104-page judgment, debunked the Centre’s argument that it retained “administrative control” over officers deputed to the Delhi government.

A Constitution Bench headed by Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud however reiterated that the National Capital Territory of Delhi (NCTD) would not have power to legislate on public order, police and land in the national capital.

Also Read | Explained: The administrative services row between the Delhi and Central governments

“The legislative and executive power of NCTD over Entry 41 shall not extend over to services related to public order, police, and land. However, legislative and executive power over services such as Indian Administrative Services or Joint Cadre services, which are relevant for the implementation of policies and vision of NCTD in terms of the day-to-day administration of the region, shall lie with NCTD. Officers may be serving in NCTD, even if they were not recruited by NCTD,” the Court laid down the law.

If a democratically elected government is not able to hold to account the officers posted in its service, then its responsibility towards the legislature as well as the public is diluted, Chief Justice Chandrachud reasoned.

The Court held that the Lieutenant Governor was, according to Article 239AA, bound by the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers of NCTD in relation to matters within the legislative scope of NCTD, which included all ‘services’ coming under Entry 41 of the State List of the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution except those related to public order, police and land.

Also Read | Delhi undermined: On Centre’s bid to run the National Capital Territory

“To clarify, any reference to ‘Lieutenant Governor’ over services (excluding services related to ‘public order’, ‘police’ and ‘land’) in relevant Rules shall mean Lieutenant Governor acting on behalf of GNCTD,” the Court interpreted.

The Court noted that the efficacy of the State and the system of responsible government to a large part depend upon professionals, who embody the institution of a competent and independent civil service. The policies of the government are implemented not by the people, Parliament, the Cabinet, or even individual Ministers, but by civil service officers. Effectiveness of the services is to a large extent dependent upon the relationship between the Ministers and civil service officers, it said.

“Civil servants are required to be politically neutral. The day-to-day decisions of the Council of Ministers are to be implemented by a neutral civil service, under the administrative control of the Ministers. Civil service officers thus are accountable to the Ministers of the elected government, under whom they function. Ministers are in turn accountable to Parliament or, as the case may be. the State Legislatures,” the Chief Justice observed.

The Delhi government had approached the Supreme Court amidst a scenario in which civil service officers were directly pushing policy files directly to the Lieutenant Governor, considered an extension of the Centre, rather than consulting elected Ministers of the Delhi government.

The Supreme Court said a principle of “triple-chain of collective responsibility” existed in the governance of the capital.

This three-cornered command included civil service officers being accountable to Ministers, who are in turn accountable to the Parliament/Legislature, which is ultimately answerable to the electorate.

“An unaccountable and a non-responsive civil service may pose a serious problem of governance in a democracy. It creates a possibility that the permanent executive, consisting of unelected civil service officers, who play a decisive role in the implementation of government policy, may act in ways that disregard the will of the electorate,” the Constitution Bench said.

The bureaucrats have to come under the control of the Delhi government, otherwise its responsibility towards the legislature as well as the public is diluted.

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