Should Delhi be given statehood?

The Aam Aadmi Party was born out of the historic 2011 anti-corruption movement that culminated with the party winning an unprecedented mandate of 67 out of 70 seats in the 2015 Delhi Assembly elections.

Taking control

As soon as the AAP government in Delhi set about fulfilling its mandate, the BJP-ruled Central government started stripping it of its powers. Delhi’s Anti Corruption Branch (ACB) had always functioned under the Delhi government, even during the rule of the previous 15-year Congress government in Delhi. Our strong push to curb corruption led to the arrest of many government officials. The Centre responded by passing orders, forcefully taking away control of Delhi’s ACB by sending paramilitary forces.

It is not just the ACB. Even the Department of Services, which decides the appointments and transfers of all officers of the Delhi government, including Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officers, had also always functioned under the Delhi government. But an order issued by the Union Home Ministry in May 2015 ruled that the Lieutenant Governor would have complete control over this department. No other elected government anywhere in India, or even in Delhi for that matter, has seen such curtailment of its powers. Through this and many such incidents, it is clear that the Delhi government is not being allowed to operate by the will of the people, but is at the Centre’s mercy.

So much so that a bureaucrat in Delhi thinks it is okay to tell his Education Minister that he cannot reveal the number of positions vacant in schools for teachers because that comes under the Department of Services, which is under the Centre’s purview. For the last four months, IAS officers have not attended any meeting called by Ministers, or responded to phone calls or texts. It is in this context that the strike by IAS officers, orchestrated by the Centre, must be seen.

Whether to create schools, colleges or hospitals, many of our policy proposals are routinely returned. This is because we are not allowed to propose the number and type of staff to man the institutions we wish to create to serve the people of Delhi. Despite these obstructions, the AAP, through political will, has ensured a complete transformation in several sectors, particularly in education, health, water and electricity. Many of these steps have been lauded and are being emulated across the country.

In 1991, when the 69th Amendment to the Constitution created the Legislative Assembly of Delhi, the city’s population was much smaller. Today, there are nearly two crore people in Delhi. Nowhere in any democracy are two crore people represented by a government with powers as restricted as ours. This is no longer an adequate system, because Delhi has outgrown it.

Equal rights

Nobody can disagree that the goal of the drafters of our Constitution was to create a democratic republic that confers equal rights to all citizens. This extends to the equal right of people for representation and self-governance. Even when the Union Territories were first created, the idea was to provide a flexible yet transitional status to several territories that joined the Indian Union under different circumstances. With time, Goa, Manipur, Himachal Pradesh and Tripura have been granted statehood. The first stage of Delhi’s evolution took place in 1991, when the Assembly was created. The time has come to enter the second and final stage to create the full State of Delhi.

This is no longer about a political party or a leader. It is about the democratic rights and aspirations of nearly two crore citizens. The sooner the Prime Minister understands this, the better it would be for Delhi and the project to make India a better, greater democracy.