Delhi vs Centre row: L-G does not have sweeping executive powers over national capital, says Supreme Court

Delhi is unique, follows an ‘asymmetric federal model’ of governance; Centre should remain within its boundaries, says Constitution Bench

May 12, 2023 02:35 am | Updated 06:37 am IST - NEW DELHI:

Advocates walk past the Supreme Court of India building in New Delhi.

Advocates walk past the Supreme Court of India building in New Delhi. | Photo Credit: PTI

The Supreme Court on Thursday clarified that the Lieutenant Governor (L-G) does not have sweeping executive powers over the national capital, and the Centre should be mindful of the unique “asymmetric federal model” of governance adopted for Delhi.

A Constitution Bench headed by Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud held that the L-G can exercise executive power on behalf of the Centre only in the three areas of public order, police and land in Delhi as mentioned in Article 239AA(3)(a).

If the L-G differed with the Council of Ministers of the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (GNCTD), he should act in accordance with the procedure laid down in the Transaction of Business Rules.

However, in case the Parliament enacts a law granting executive power on any subject which is within the domain of NCTD, the executive power of the L-G can be modified to the specific extent provided in that law. This means that any change in the L-G’s ambit of power should be supported by a parliamentary legislation which is subject to judicial review by the court.

The court referred to Section 49 of the GNCTD Act which mandates the L-G and the Delhi Council of Ministers to “comply with particular directions issued by the President on specific occasions”.

The court noted the ‘sui generis’ or special status given to Delhi, and said “cooperative federalism” was the key to meaningful governance of the capital.

“While NCTD is not a full-fledged State, its Legislative Assembly is constitutionally entrusted with the power to legislate upon the subjects in the State List and Concurrent List… It has a democratically elected government which is accountable to the people of NCTD. Under the constitutional scheme envisaged in Article 239AA(3), NCTD was given legislative power which though limited, in many aspects is similar to States. In that sense, with addition of Article 239AA, the Constitution created a federal model with the Union of India at the Centre and the NCTD at the regional level. This is the asymmetric federal model adopted for NCTD,” Chief Justice Chandrachud observed.

‘Unique relationship’

The NCTD cannot be subsumed as a unit of the Union. “In the spirit of cooperative federalism, the Union of India must exercise its powers within the boundaries created by the Constitution. NCTD, having a sui generis federal model, must be allowed to function in the domain charted for it by the Constitution. The Union and NCTD share a unique federal relationship. It does not mean that NCTD is subsumed in the unit of the Union merely because it is not a ‘State’,” the court highlighted.

Accordingly, the L-G, the court said, can act in his discretion only in two classes of matters.

“Firstly, where the matter deals with issues which are beyond the powers of the Legislative Assembly and where the President has delegated the powers and functions to the Lieutenant Governor in relation to such matter; and secondly, matters which by law require him to act in his discretion or where he is exercising judicial or quasi-judicial functions,” Chief Justice Chandrachud ordered.

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