H Khogen Singh
July is an important month for the Delhi Government, Central Government, the Aam Aadmi Party and the people of Delhi at large. A five-judge Supreme Court Bench comprising Chief Justice Dipak Misra, Justices A K Sikri, A M Khanwilkar, D Y Chandrachud and Ashok Bhushan is expected to give its verdict on the powers of the Delhi Government vis-a-vis the Centre.
The court had reserved its verdict on December 5 on a petition filed by the Arvind Kejriwal government seeking interpretation of Article 239AA of the Constitution, which demarcates powers between the Centre and Delhi government.
Under the current interpretation of Article 239AA, the real administrator of Delhi is the Lieutenant-Governor as it is the national Capital and Delhi enjoys only a truncated statehood. The AAP Government has been consistently complaining against L-G Anil Baijal, accusing him of constantly interfering in the elected government’s decisions to paralyse its functioning.
The verdict will hopefully end the bitterness between the L-G, which by extension means the Centre, and the AAP Government. The clash between them, over almost every issue, is played out in the media, on the streets and in the government, affecting governance.
The end result has been that the aam aadmi has not benefitted from the promises AAP made when it stormed to power in Delhi, winning an incredible 67 seats out of 70. Constant carping against the Centre, the L-G and the Prime Minister for its own failures has only left the public ruing its verdict of 2015.
The latest blame game is over the feeling of about 18,000 trees in South Delhi to redevelop some colonies that house mostly government employees. Union Environment Minister Harsh Vardhan blamed the Delhi Government for the felling of the trees while the Kejriwal Government said it was the Centre that had given permission to cut them.
Political mudslinging apart, the truth lies somewhere in between. In July 2016, the Union Cabinet approved the redevelopment of seven colonies to expand government housing facilities and create commercial infrastructure. The project involves a change in land use and felling of fully grown trees.
Of the seven colonies, Sarojini Nagar, Netaji Nagar and Nauroji Nagar are to be developed by the National Buildings Construction Corporation and Kasturba Nagar, Thyagraj Nagar, Mohammadpur and Srinivaspuri by the Central Public Works Department.
The fact is that permission from several agencies is required to undertake such large real estate projects. In this case, environmental approval was given by the Union Environment Ministry and also the Delhi Forest Department. Pollution-related approvals were given by the Delhi Pollution Control Committee.
Even as the two sides exchanged barbs, Delhiites took matters in their hands, holding protests, galvanizing support on social media and even moving court. The blame game has temporarily stopped after the Delhi High Court intervened and ordered that tree felling be stopped until it hears the matter.
Just days before this, Kejriwal was involved in an unseemly protest over the alleged strike by IAS officers against his Government. In a never before act by a chief minister, Kejriwal and three Cabinet colleagues sat in protest at the L-G’s office-cum-residence to demand that Baijal direct IAS officers to call off their alleged strike.
The AAP even released photographs of the foursome sleeping on sofas at Raj Niwas in an attempt to drum up public support. Bharatiya Janata Party leaders, not to be left behind, held a similar comical protest outside the chief minister’s office. So when the Supreme Court gives its verdict on the demarcation of powers between the Centre and Delhi Government, it will come as a welcome relief to Delhiites.
The judgment should end once and for all the dispute over who really is in control in the national capital. But will it end the constant bickering between the BJP, AAP and the Congress, the three main political opponents? Given Kejriwal’s track record of being a crybaby and the immaturity of the BJP and Congress leadership, it is highly unlikely.