A five-judge Supreme Court bench unanimously held that real power rests with the council of ministers in Delhi, handing Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party a victory in its ongoing tussle with the Lieutenant Governor appointed by the central government.
The apex court ruled that the Lieutenant Governor cannot act as an obstructionist in policy decisions of the union territory. All decisions of the government must be conveyed to the Lieutenant Governor, but his concurrence is not needed in all matters, said Chief Justice Of India Dipak Misra.
Justice DY Chandrachud, in his separate but concurrent verdict, said the Lieutenant Governor must realise that the council of ministers is answerable to the people. “Real power to take decisions must rest with the elected representatives of the state.”
The dispute arose from the power tussle between the Delhi government and the Lieutenant Governor over who has primacy in administration of the union territory. The Aam Admi Party-led government in the national capital had moved the Supreme Court after the Delhi High Court ruled in Lieutenant Governor’s favour.
Chief Justice Misra called on the Delhi and the central governments to work together in “harmonious collaboration with the spirit of pragmatic federalism”.
Hailing the verdict, Soli Sorabjee, former attorney general of India, said the two sides can’t always have confrontations. “Daily squabbles are not good for democracy.”
The verdict was delivered by a five-judge Constitution Bench headed by the Chief Justice of India and included Justice AK Sikri, Justice DY Chandrachud, Justice AM Khanwilkar and Justice Ashok Bhushan.
Other highlights from the judgment:
- Lieutenant Governor has not been entrusted with independent powers.
- Except for three issues, including law and order, Delhi government has the power to legislate and govern.
- Lieutenant Governor should not act in a mechanical manner and stall decisions of the council of ministers.
- Lieutenant Governor is bound to act on the aid and advice of the council of ministers.
- Lieutenant Governor can refer issues on difference of opinion to the President only in exceptional matters and not as general rule.
The AAP government had accused the Lieutenant Governor of acting on the directions of the Modi administration and usurping the powers which rest with the elected government. It said the Lieutenant Governor, through his actions—and in some instances inaction by sitting on files—made it difficult for the constitutionally elected government to carry out its mandate.
“Now, work will not be stalled,” said Manish Sisodia, Delhi’s deputy chief minister, welcoming the apex court’s ruling.
Has the confusion over LG’s role been clarified once and for all? Senior Supreme Court Advocate KTS Tulsi and constitutional expert Subhash Kashyap weigh in.