Is it time to eradicate Delhi Assembly?

By virtue of Article 239 of the Constitution, the ultimate responsibility for the good administration of Delhi is vested in the President of India acting through the Administrator (Lt. Governor). Because of this provision, the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi is required to play a somewhat more active role in administration than the Governor of the state.

Delhi has done many experiments in the past in terms of governance of the national capital. Prior to the coming into force of the present usage, what came to be known as the Metropolitan Council was established in Delhi in 1966, which was implemented under the Delhi Administration Act 1966. The Act made provision for the following three institutions – the Delhi Metropolitan Council, the Chief Executive Councillor, and the Delhi Administration. The council was an elected body which was not competent to make any law, but could only recommend suitable legislation to the central government. The Chief Executive heads a 4-member Executive Council to aid and advise the Lieutenant Governor in matters of administration. The administration was subordinate and subordinate to the central government.

Due to the continuing uproar in Delhi for self-government and statehood, in 1987 the central government appointed a committee to suggest an appropriate administrative and political set-up for Delhi. It recommended that Delhi be given a Legislative Assembly and a Council of Ministers to aid and advise the Lieutenant Governor. So, the Metropolitan Council became the Legislative Assembly, the Chief Executive became the Chief Minister, and the Administration became the Government (of the National Capital Territory of Delhi).

The substitution of the expression completely confused not only the common people but also the political class. Everyone believed that by giving Delhi a government, a legislative assembly and a chief minister, Delhi was placed at par with other states in the Indian Union. However, the facts were just the opposite. The Transactions of Business Rules, which were supplemented by the constitutional provisions of Article 239AA, were more or less the same as those applicable to the erstwhile Delhi Administration (which was subordinate to and subordinated to the Central Government).

In fact what was given to Delhi by the Sarkaria Commission was only a decorative clap of words and expressions. Because the trade rules applied to the new setup the transaction remained more or less unchanged; So no additional power was really provided on the new set up. Soon Madanlal Khurana, who took over as the first CM under the new set up, later Sahib Singh Verma, Sheila Dikshit, felt that the expression “Chief Minister” was no more than a misnomer and a fiction. No real power was given to the Chief Minister or the Delhi government.

Let us take a look at what was the intention of the framers of the Constitution with respect to the capital of the country. There were sharp differences among the members of the Constituent Assembly regarding the future political system of Delhi. Some wanted self-government and statehood. Many others supported centrally controlled Delhi. The Speaker of the Constituent Assembly (Dr. Rajendra Prasad) formally assigned the task of finding a viable solution to the Chairman of the Drafting Committee (Dr. BR Ambedkar). Dr. Ambedkar convened a casual secret meeting of his Drafting Committee for this purpose on Monday, July 25, 1949 (in the afternoon) at his appointed place, not in the Constituent Building of Parliament House, but at Sardar Patel’s official residence 1, Aurangzeb. Road (now renamed as APJ Abdul Kalam Road).

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Patel (both non-members) attended the meeting of the Drafting Committee as special invitees at the invitation of Dr. Ambedkar. The following decisions were taken with respect to the national capital:

(More details author’s soon to be released book “Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar: Arbiter of Delhi’s Destiny” published by National Book Trust).

Recently, the Lt Governor has banned the assembly to ask questions and introduce motions, resolutions, etc. on subjects constitutionally reserved for him. This has reduced the agenda of the Assembly. It has turned the Assembly into a dull, dreary and inspirational institution which is of no use.

(The author is a former Secretary, Lok Sabha and Delhi Legislative Assembly, constitutional expert and author. Views expressed are personal.)