SC to lay down law on LG’s power

Terms turf war in Delhi to be an ‘extraordinary matter’.

Updated - November 29, 2021 01:12 pm IST

Published - September 10, 2016 01:23 am IST - NEW DELHI:

Describing the prolonged Centre-Arvind Kejriwal turf war over who controls Delhi as an “extraordinary matter”, the Supreme Court agreed to lay down the law on whether the Lieutenant Governor (LG) can unilaterally administer the National Capital without being bound by the “aid and advice” of the elected government.

In a boisterous hearing, bordering on the acrimonious, a Bench of Justices A.K. Sikri and N.V. Ramana on Friday issued notice to the Union on a batch of seven petitions filed by the Delhi government challenging the Delhi High Court’s August 4 judgment.

The HC had upheld the LG’s power not only over the police, land and public order but also in “services”. The judgment had effectively shrunk the Kejriwal Cabinet’s girth.

The Bench however, refused to stay the HC judgment, despite submissions by senior advocate and Delhi government's counsel, K.K. Venugopal, that the verdict “affects all future governments and all future relationships between the Centre and the State”.

‘LG unqualified’

The Kejriwal government dismissed Delhi's LG as “unqualified” to administer the National Capital, a mere “employee of the Centre” and the latter half of a “master-servant relationship”. Mr. Venugopal accused LG Najeeb Jung of making “deliberate attempts” to thwart the appeals from being filed in the Supreme Court.

Mr. Venugopal submitted that senior officials in the Delhi government would not even affix their signatures on the petitions. After the HC verdict, the LG had directed the withdrawal of all Delhi government-appointed panel of advocates and senior advocates, thus handicapping its legal representation in courts.

However, the legal line-up for Kejriwal government, besides Mr. Venugopal, boasted prominent names like senior advocates Gopal Subramanium, Indira Jaising and Rajeev Dhawan during the court hearing.

‘Governance hobbled’

“Even to employ a lawyer to fight our case, even filing of a complaint, the Secretary has been asked to get the LG's permission. Payments to our lawyers have been held up because he said the amounts are exorbitant...

“Our hands are tied. We cannot go to court because we need his (LG) permission...this is what we have been reduced to,” Mr. Venugopal submitted.

The Centre, represented by Attorney-General Mukul Rohatgi, promptly retorted that the AAP-led government's petitions against the High Court judgment were “incompetent” as they were filed without the prior permission of the LG.

‘Refer plea to Constitution Bench’

In an acrimonious hearing in the Supreme Court on Thursday on the Aam Aadmi Party–led Delhi government’s challenge to the August 4 High Court judgment upholding the LG’s power not only over the police, land and public order but also in “services”, counsel for the Centre, Counsel for Delhi government K.K. Venugopal said Deputy Chief Minister of Delhi Manish Sisodia was “forced” to sign the affidavits submitted to the Supreme Court as all the senior Delhi government officials were hesitant to cross the LG.

Counsel for the Centre, Mukul Rohatgi had questioned why the affidavits, submitted by the State government, had been signed by Mr Sisodia, thus representing Delhi government in the petitions before the Supreme Court.

Larger Bench

Mr. Venugopal requested the Bench to refer the appeals to a Constitution Bench. Justice Sikri acknowledged that the point would be decided after a detailed preliminary hearing fixed for November 15.

The petitions, if referred to a Constitution Bench, would have to be heard by an 11-judge Bench of the Supreme Court.

This is because a nine-judge Bench of the apex court had in 1996 in the NDMC versus State of Punjab case, recognised Delhi as a Union Territory for taxation purposes.

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