In a rare case of Centre-state confrontation, the Union government and the government of the Union Territory of Delhi have knocked at the gates of higher judiciary over the powers of the Delhi Legislative Assembly and the elected state government.
The demand for statehood is not new. While in power, both the BJP and Congress have raised the full statehood demand for Delhi. But whenever they came to rule from Raisina Hills, successive governments have been reluctant to accord statehood to Delhi by arguing that it is the national capital and cannot be the seat of two governments. On several occasions, the Delhi Bill had run into rough weather also because of the controversy about where to draw the boundaries. Local officials have pointed out the non-viability of the new state if certain areas are excluded. In 1998, the home ministry proposed that New Delhi might be retained as a Union Territory in the reorganised set-up while the rest of Delhi be given statehood.
In 1991, the Parliament, through the 69th amendment, introduced Article 239AA (Special Provisions with respect to Delhi) and conferred the right upon the people of the NCT of Delhi to elect their own legislature and government to make laws under certain entries of the state list of the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution and execute these laws respectively. This amendment did not confer full statehood upon Delhi and powers with respect to public order, land and police remained with the Union government.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal asserts that this is a fraud on the people of Delhi. The fact is that unlike the classical federations like the US, Indian federation is not an indestructible Union of indestructible states. Only the Union is indestructible; the states are not. Moreover, Delhi is not the only case of asymmetrical federalism in the Indian Constitution. Constitutional asymmetries are evident in the cases of the states of Jammu and Kashmir, Nagaland and Mizoram. In the case of UTs, the two asymmetrical units are National Capital Territory of Delhi and Puducherry.
Delhi is by and large a city-state. But it is also the capital of India. Since it is not possible for the Central government to come under a state government’s administrative jurisdiction, it automatically means that Delhi has to be bifurcated if one part of it is to receive full statehood. There is no way any Central government will allow a state to control its offices, establishments, cantonments and services. So the first implication of Kejriwal’s demand for statehood is bifurcation. And it will not be just geographical bifurcation, but bifurcation of all the services provided to the citizens of united Delhi: the police, land development authority, waterworks, everything.
Though this recent episode between the CM and Lt Governor has reopened the debate on Delhi being made a state, it is likely to result in an even more cautious approach of Parliament and the executive towards conferring full statehood upon Delhi. Even in the US, Washington, District of Columbia (DC) was formed by taking land from two states to ensure that the national capital would be smoothly governed by the federal government.
The unfortunate aspect of this whole controversy has been that the otherwise legitimate demand for Delhi to be made a state, subject to the Central government and diplomatic enclaves being outside the purview of the state government, is likely to be set back by several years due to the ham-handed and whimsical manner in which the CM of the Government of the NCT of Delhi has handled this issue.
Gaur is a former Allahabad University professor and rights activist