Full statehood, a potential solution to the capital’s powerless governance, remains mired in politics
Jasleen Kaur | July 1, 2016 | New Delhi
Delhi’s maverick chief minister Arvind Kejriwal would not like to be clubbed with the far-right leaders of Europe, but as the Brexit referendum results came out, he too sounded as jubilant as them. He tweeted, “After UK referendum, Delhi will soon have a referendum on full statehood.”
While the Aam Aadmi Party’s insistence on referendum is understandable – Kejriwal’s previous venture, NGO Parivartan, also favoured ‘direct democracy’ – but clubbing it with Brexit and drawing the Britain-Delhi analogy is altogether misplaced. Though the centre has said the constitution has no provision for referendum, AAP is going ahead with its plan to hold a popular vote on the long-promised, long-pending question of full statehood for Delhi.
READ | [Statehood demand] is not realistic: Former Delhi CM Sheila Dikshit
This will scale up the feud between the centre and the state, which has been going on on daily basis for more than a year now. As the AAP
eyes Punjab, where elections are due March next year, the exchange of allegations and counter-allegations between the Kejriwal government and the Modi government was bound to intensify. However, unlike many other issues – CBI raids, stalled bills, probe into the murder of an NDMC official, the matter of Delhi statehood goes to the very core of governance. Every party, the Congress, BJP and now AAP, has presented clinching arguments in favour of granting full statehood to what is essentially a union territory with an assembly, but every party in power at the centre – the Congress and the BJP so far – has done little to act on their own convictions.
COLUMN | Fiscally arguable, politically impossible
The AAP first pledged for a fuller state of Delhi in its very first electoral foray in 2013, and repeated the promise in the 2015 elections. On May 18, the government made a beginning by making public a draft of the bill demanding full statehood for Delhi, inviting comments on it by June 30.
Many power centres of Delhi
India’s national capital faces a peculiar problem. It is the largest city with a population of 1.67 crore (not counting the habitants of the adjoining satellite towns), and post liberalisation it has pipped Mumbai to emerge as an economic powerhouse too. But, unlike other, regular states, it suffers from a multiplicity of authorities with, ironically, the elected government being the least powerful of them all, as former chief minister and Congress veteran Sheila Dikshit says.
Delhi is a union territory and UTs come under the centre. But Delhi and Puducherry have elected governments with special arrangement under the constitution. The elected government of Delhi has been given some constitutional powers, but powers over land and law and order rest with the centre.
Under the Article 239AA(3)(a) of the constitution, the Delhi assembly cannot make laws on public order, police and land, unlike other state assemblies. So in reality, representatives from other states have more say in administrative matters of the city instead of the elected government.
Too many bodies administrating various developmental works add to delays and inefficiency. There are three municipal corporations which are elected bodies, with mayors as their heads. The NDMC is governed by a council and it includes the chief minister of Delhi. It is controlled by the central government. The Delhi police reports to the union home ministry. The National Capital Territory (NCT) is headed by the lieutenant governor (LG), appointed by the union government. The LG also heads the Delhi Development Authority (DDA).
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Thus, if a road needs a repair, it would not be clear which authority to approach. The governance model in the national capital is so complex that the road sector is looked after by six agencies: Public Works Department under the Delhi government, Municipal Corporation of Delhi, NDMC, DDA, National Highways Authority of India (under the central government) and Delhi Cantonment Board (under the ministry of defence). Housing, for instance, is looked after by the Municipal Corporations of Delhi, DDA, ministry of urban development and ministry of housing and urban poverty alleviation.
As the AAP government puts it in its position paper, “For example, during interactions with traders, a couple of issues constantly emerge: the harassment that they have to face by the DDA due to its unreasonable policies on conversion charges and by the MCD due to its threats to carry out ceiling drives and business closures. In both the issues Delhi government can’t do much except use its immense political capital to mount pressure.”
Following the December 16, 2013 gangrape, the then chief minister Sheila Dikshit faced popular outrage for the law and order situation of the capital, over which she had little control.
The draft State of Delhi Bill aims to empower the state government further as it demands the extension of its jurisdiction over land, police, bureaucracy and municipal corporations. The bill states that the central government can continue to control the New Delhi municipal council (NDMC), which administers the ‘Lutyen’s Delhi’, the central zone of the city which houses the union government, parliament, supreme court, and the embassies.
Kejriwal has urged the BJP and the Congress to rise above the differences and develop a consensus for statehood. His argument is that his government is only taking forward what those two parties have repeatedly promised.
Tracing the history
Contrary to the popular perception, the Delhi legislative assembly is quite old and has evolved over the years. It was first constituted in March 1952 under the Government of Part C States Act, 1951. The assembly, which was inaugurated by the then home minister KN Katju, had 48 members and a council of ministers in an advisory role to the chief commissioner of Delhi, though it also had power to make laws. The first chief minister was Chaudhary Brahm Prakash.
But soon Delhi was made a union territory under the direct administration of the president after a constitutional amendment in the States Reorganisation Act, 1956. Thus, the Delhi legislative assembly was abolished. Also, the Delhi Municipal Corporation Act, 1957 was enacted.
In September 1966, with the Delhi Administration Act, the Delhi assembly was replaced by the Delhi Metropolitan Council which had 56 elected and five nominated members with the lieutenant governor as its head. The council had only advisory role and had no legislative powers. This setup continued till 1990.
The council was replaced by the Delhi legislative assembly through the Constitution (Sixty-ninth Amendment) Act, 1991, followed by the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi Act, 1991. The Union Territory of Delhi came to be known formally as National Capital Territory of Delhi.
The first government of the NCT of Delhi led by BJP veteran Madan Lal Khurana began with hype and hoopla and popular expectations but soon found itself powerless to do much, and started demanding full statehood.
In 1998, the NDA government prepared a draft on Delhi reorganisation bill, which proposed full statehood to Delhi except for the NDMC area. The bill stated that while the centre would have control over public order and police for the entire city, it will have a say on the subjects of land and local government only for NDMC area – the Delhi government would have powers on land and local government of the rest of Delhi.
The bill was presented in parliament only in August 2003 by the then deputy prime minister LK Advani and it was referred to a standing committee headed by Pranab Mukherjee. The report of the standing committee was tabled in the Rajya Sabha a day after the BJP lost the Delhi assembly election in December 2003. While the committee approved all the clauses, it expressed reservations over a clause which said that the “President shall have executive power to give direction to the State of Delhi for good governance and proper development of the State” and his directions will be binding on the state government. It said that such powers of the President would impinge on the concept of statehood proposed to be conferred on Delhi. It observed that “such overriding and sweeping powers may be used by the union government as a ploy to destablise the elected government of Delhi”, a news report in The Hindu said.
The bill, however, lapsed at the end of the Lok Sabha term in 2004.
Kejriwal’s predecessor Sheila Dikshit, who governed the city for three consecutive terms, had also demanded full statehood during her tenure. Even though her party, the Congress, was heading the central government for a full decade, it refused to take up the cause.
Politics of statehood
While statehood has been demanded by all major political parties in the past, some have changed their stand and now question its feasibility.
Jagdish Mukhi, former finance minister of Delhi under the BJP government, has been a strong protagonist in demanding full statehood. He recalls that when he took over as finance minister in 1993, there were many areas over which he had no control. “I could not impose any tax, increase or decrease the rate of tax, or give any exemption for tax without the consent of the centre. I took up the matter with the then union finance minister Manmohan Singh. I told him that with these restrictions the Delhi government can never function. And if they have to take the final decision on every aspect of tax then I should just be called the expenditure minister,” he adds.
Mukhi says the centre agreed and with time the finance department under the Delhi government became powerful. “When BJP came to power at the centre, they too were reluctant to give us statehood. They argued that heads of other countries come here and if there is a different government in the state which is not working in tandem with the centre, it can create chaos.” But, he adds, he and his colleagues tried to convince the then home minister LK Advani and it was then the government came up with a bill on statehood.
HIGHLIGHTS: THE DRAFT OF THE DELHI STATE BILL, 2016
There shall be established a new State to be known as the State of Delhi comprising the territories of the existing National Capital Territory of Delhi.
Representation in the legislatures: The Council of States
- There shall be allotted three seats in the Council of States to the State of Delhi and in the Fourth Schedule to the Constitution, the entry 30 relating to the existing National Capital Territory shall be deemed to be the entry relating to the State of Delhi
- On and from the appointed day the three sitting members of the Council of States, representing the existing National Capital Territory, shall be deemed to have been duly elected under clause (4) of article 80 to fill the seats allotted to the State of Delhi
Amendment to the Delhi Police Act, 1978
- The liability of the Union to refund any tax or duty on property, including land revenue collected in excess, shall go to the State of Delhi if the property is situated in the territories of that State
- Any other tax or duty collected in excess shall go to the State of Delhi if the place of assessment of that tax or duty is included in the territory of the State of Delhi
- The right to recover arrears of any tax or duty (including arrears of land revenue) on any property situated in the territory of the State of Delhi shall belong to the state of Delhi
Amendments to the Delhi Municipal Corporation Act 1957
- Wherever words ‘Union Territory of Delhi’ is mentioned, it should be substituted by “State of Delhi”
- For the words ‘Central Government’, it should be substituted by ‘Government of the State of Delhi’
- The Delhi Development Act 1957, the Delhi Police Act 1978 and other statutes passed by the Parliament in respect of matters enumerated in the State List in the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution will henceforth be carried out by the Legislative Assembly of the State of Delhi
- Words ‘Administrator or Lt. Governor’ should be substituted by ‘Governor’ in the Delhi Municipal Corporation Act, the Delhi Development Act and the Delhi Police Act
- The Governor will act on the aid and advise of the Council of Ministers as provided in Article 163 of the Constitution
Today, however, he has a different opinion. “After seeing the behaviour of the chief minister [Kejriwal], who does not follow rules and regulations before introducing bills in the assembly, it is better that the central government has control over it.” Mukhi says a chief minister like Kejriwal has convinced him that the statehood will affect the governance and development in the national capital.
In a blog dated August 2015, Ajay Maken, president of Delhi unit of the Congress and former union minister, writes that all the development in Delhi has been possible only under the present dispensation and it would not be financially viable for it to run as an independent state. Giving an example, Maken writes that if Delhi becomes a full state, it would get Rs 5,000 crore per year (Rs
25,000 crore in five years) as a part of its share of taxes from the union government. Whereas, he adds, the central government had budgeted Rs 5,200 crore on Delhi Police in 2015 alone.
“You cannot be the national capital and a state at the same time. This has been thoroughly examined many times since 1911 by different commissions and leaders including Babasaheb Ambedkar and Pandit Nehru. It is not feasible,” Maken told Governance Now.
He adds that the super-specialty hospitals and three fully-funded central universities in Delhi are only there because it has a special status under the constitution. Once granted full statehood, Delhi will no longer be able to live off the centre’s subsidies. And because it has no major revenue system, people will be taxed more.
“The government has just put the draft of the bill on the website without mentioning the repercussion of the changes. People should be told this so that they can take an informed decision,” he says. He adds the concept of having two police forces in the city is not feasible and the issue has been examined in the past by the S Balakrishna committee (set up in 1989). Calling the present scenario as the best solution, Maken says perhaps that is why Delhi is “the best city in the country”.
Dilip Pandey, convenor of the Delhi unit of AAP, however, rubbishes the financial viability argument. “The Delhi government, at present, collects approximately Rs1,25,000 crore in taxes.” (However, according to the budget for 2016-17, Delhi’s total tax revenue was estimated at Rs 36,525 crore, which would be 78 percent of its total receipts at Rs 46,600 crore.) “We are generating enough revenue to maintain our expenses. There is no need to take money from outside. Because this is a city state, the central government gives money to the local bodies but not to us. We did not ask for any money from the centre in the budget, though other states do.” Pandey says the AAP government has invited the other parties to debate whatever objections they have and with the proposed changes it will introduce the statehood bill in the assembly. “Why are they against it when they themselves have been demanding this for long?”
BJP has always been strongly in favour of Delhi as a state – except when it rules at the centre
Veteran BJP leader Kalka Dass pitched for a full state of Delhi in 1988
BJP Leader Alok Kumar in the Delhi assembly requested bi-partisan support to make Delhi a full state
Madan Lal Khurana, as Delhi CM, spoke on August 26, 1994 on the need for a Delhi state
Under the chief minister of Sahib Singh Verma, a draft bill for full statehood of Delhi was prepared in 1998
During the 1999 Lok Sabha election campaign, the then PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee promised full statehood for Delhi, and the same was also pledged in the BJP manifesto
The Delhi statehood bill was presented in parliament in August 2003 by the then deputy PM LK Advani. The bill was referred to a standing committee, which was chaired by Pranab Mukherjee. It lapsed at the end of the house term
In 2011, VK Malhotra, the leader of the opposition in Delhi assembly, had said that BJP had been demanding full statehood for Delhi as far back as 1956
In the 2013 national executive meeting in Goa, BJP supported full statehood for Delhi. The then Delhi BJP president Vijay Goel had said that the capital’s growth was restricted in absence of full statehood and the Congress had done nothing in this regard during its long rule
During the 2013 assembly elections, the BJP manifesto promised to continue the struggle for full statehood of Delhi. BJP’s CM candidate Dr Harsh Vardhan had said that Delhi would be granted full statehood if his party came to power in the state and the centre
In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the state unit of BJP had come out with a Delhi-specific manifesto where they had promised full statehood along with bringing police, DDA and MCD under one roof
He says that everyone is aware of the duality of authority in Delhi and how it hinders development work here. “For instance, we allocated the budget for installation of CCTV cameras. The cameras have to be installed on roads which are governed by MCD. And MCD is not giving us NOC [no objection certificate]. A lot of work has been stalled because of such duplicity.”
Pandey explains why it is important to address the issue of statehood, which will work in favour of the people of Delhi. He says MCD has not been able to manage its operations well and its employees are not receiving salaries, but the situation would have been different if the Delhi government was administering it. Also, as the Delhi government has no say in managing law and order and police is accountable and responsible to the home ministry. On land, he says, “While the Delhi government is seeking permission from the LG for land for opening schools, he instead changes the land use and gives it to the BJP for opening its office.”
He adds the reasons being given by other political parties are all “technical” which can be sorted out if the centre has the will to do it.
BJP spokesperson Sanjay Kaul agrees that the centre-state-municipality friction stops Delhi from becoming a world-class city. He, however, argues that rather than worrying about full statehood, more important is that Delhi should have an administration which is conducive and non-political. Giving the example of NDMC, which has a better model of governance because its members are nominated and not elected, Kaul says when politics is taken out people perform without fear and favour.
“Delhi after all is just a municipality. It cannot be compared to a state. Unless it is managed well how does it matter if it is a state or not? The most important thing is to get municipality in order,” he suggests.
While governance is the main reason for political parties asking for statehood, Kaul says it will not improve as long as there are three power centres. “If the state has to operate only under the LG rule then why pretend it is autonomous? The fundamental questions will still not be answered [even if the statehood is granted]. Delhi has layers of obstructions and conflict for no reasons.” He says the government should focus on better administration. An alternative, he suggests, could be a system present in major capitals of the world – including New York and London – where the control is in the hands of mayors. “In any case the CM cannot even make any appointment freely without the LG’s approval. So why do we need to go through unnecessary processes,” he asks.
The recurring incidents of tussle between chief minister Kejriwal and lieutenant governor Najeeb Jung have further highlighted the ambiguity over the powers of the state government. So while the rules (laid under the constitution) give vast power to the LG, it also makes it mandatory for him to consult the council of ministers of the Delhi government in case of difference of opinion.
Congress has also made the right noises – though not the right moves
Metropolitan councilor Mirza Sidiq Ali of the Congress called for full statehood in 1988
On November 21, 2013, outgoing CM Sheila Dikshit had said the city would have witnessed better development had the government not been shackled by the present governance structure of Delhi characterised by a multiplicity of agencies and authorities. She reiterated her demand to grant full statehood to Delhi
During the 2015 assembly polls, the Congress manifesto said full statehood is essential for effective governance without any shackles in Delhi
Why Delhi should be a full state, according to AAP
DDA, police and MCD need to be fully under the Delhi government: DDA for land and housing issues, and police for fixing accountability for law and order
The synchronisation in utilisation of resources is extremely poor in MCD, which is supposed to work on health, education and sanitation
Embassy areas and central government are in the NDMC zone of the city. For this area, a centre-run police force can easily be both provided for and budgeted for separately while allowing the rest of Delhi police to come under the Delhi state government
Vatican City has a separate police force within the city limits of Rome
Many countries have the capital city under the central government, like Australia (Canberra), US (Washington DC) and Canada (Ottawa). But AAP points out that these cities are small administrative capitals and not the big population centres
Capital cities which have all administrative powers prevent policy paralysis. New York City has a large number of embassies, but the law and order in the city are looked after by local police force. London has its own police department though Scotland Yard chips in for more serious crimes
Should police be with state in national capital?
An argument is made that police in a capital city should not be under the state’s control, since this involves law and order as well as security of the national government as well as embassies and visiting heads of state/nation. The AAP government has proposed a separation, and given many international examples to support this case.
Source: A position paper published on the Delhi government website, delhi.gov.in.
Maken, who was the parliamentary secretary in the Dikshit government, says if someone is not as rigid as Kejriwal then definitely the state government can work for the betterment of state. “I have been part of Sheila Dikshit’s government. I know it is not very easy to function when you do not have all the powers but you can get most of the things done in the interest of Delhi,” he says.
Highlighting the state of various bodies like Delhi Jal Board and Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC), Maken says many departments that are already under the Delhi government are not working efficiently, and full statehood will not improve their working. He says a common man will not be affected by who controls the Delhi police – Manish Sisodia or Rajnath Singh.
“Is the law and order situation better in Ghaziabad or Gurgaon? In fact it is worse in UP and Haryana where it is entirely controlled by the state government. In the 15 years of the Congress rule, while we did complain but we also delivered. Things can be worked out. The Delhi government is unable to govern the capital and for that they want to blame other things.”
(The story appears in the July 1-15, 2016 issue)
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