Delhi's half-state status, challenge to Kejriwal

On the fateful day that the political newbie Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) swept Delhi elections, its chief proponent Arvind Kejriwal called the victory ‘scary’.

While this can be interpreted variously, one thing that must have weighed on his mind is the rising expectations. The voters who have abandoned the traditional parties and come in millions to the AAP would want it to deliver on many of its promises and be “different” from other political parties. No one knows better than Kejriwal that the new age voter is impatient and unforgiving. It took just seven month for many of them to switch side from the BJP to the AAP. 

From providing free water, reducing power tariff to setting up hundreds of new schools, Kejriwal has a long wish list to deliver. Take a quick check at the balance sheet of Delhi government. At the end of the fiscal year 2013, the Delhi government spent Rs 13,800 crore on the Plan development side. The subsidy to power consumers constituted about Rs 270 crore of total expenditure.

A 50 per cent subsidy to consumers of up to 400 units would see the expenditure rise to Rs 1400 crore. Similarly, consider the case of installing CCTV cameras. Mumbai undertook a similar initiative and installed 6000 cameras at a cost of Rs 800 crore. 

The AAP plans to install 1,50,000 cameras across Delhi, the expenditure for which amounts to a whopping Rs. 20,000 crore. Delhi’s net savings have declined from Rs 7,713 crore on April 1, 2011 to a mere Rs 1,985 crore on April 1, 2013, clearly highlighting the fact that the Delhi government is already spending more than it is earning. The concern is further amplified when taken into account the fact that Delhi cannot raise funds from the market as it is a Union Territory and not a state.

Yet, Kejriwal’s foremost challenge is not really the constraint of resources; rather, it is the half-state status of Delhi. Despite having a Legislative Assembly, Delhi is still treated as a Union Territory. Article 239 AA vests Delhi to form an elected Assembly which is empowered to legislate on all subjects in the State List of Seventh Schedule except those related to public order, police and land. This apart, given its National Capital Territory status, Article 239-AA (3)(b) provides free hand to Indian Parliament to legislate on any subject matter.

As a result, on matters of policing and law and order, the Union home ministry acts as the nodal agency. The Delhi Police Commissioner does not have to report to the CM but to the Lt Governor, appointed by the Centre. Similarly, on land related issues, the Delhi government has very little autonomy. Land is under the control of the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) that reports to LG and the Union urban development ministry. Given this, Kejriwal will find it difficult to move on establishing new colleges and schools for want of land.

Successive governments in Delhi have made vehement demands for full statehood or at least transferring powers related to land and police (traffic management). A serious attempt to change this situation was made by the previous NDA government, when in 2003 it introduced a bill earmarking devolution of land matters to Delhi. During the UPA regime, the Second Administrative Reforms Commission had expressed similar opinion. However, both the NDA and the UPA have stayed away from taking a favourable decision, even when the state was run by their own parties. Being clear adversaries, it has to be seen how the Union government would concede the AAP demand.

Direct democracy

The AAP’s lofty ideal of establishing Swarajya or direct democracy which revolves around empowerment of mohallas and bastis, faces its litmus test on account of statehood status. Same fate awaits the Jan Lokpal bill. Given its half-state status, the big question is whether the Delhi government can introduce such a bill without the consent of the LG. And if it can pass such a legislation, does the Delhi government have the authority to introduce a law which will prosecute officials who don’t come under its jurisdiction in the first place. In fact, these are same reasons that were brought up last time by the Congress and the BJP against the AAP when it tried to move the bill in Delhi assembly.

Being national capital, Delhi is pitted with multiple authorities (controlled by the Centre) that fiercely compete for many of its core functions. Five bodies – the New Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC), Delhi Cantonment Board and three Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) eat up a sizeable chunk of resources available for Delhi. When it comes to the functioning of these bodies, there is considerable overlap. 

For instance, primary schooling came under the jurisdiction of the MCD and the Delhi government ran secondary and higher education. Such duplication works have led to chaos and inefficiency in Delhi’s governing mechanisms. Yet , there is little that Kejriwal can do about this as these bodies are controlled by the BJP.  

Thus, the challenges facing Kejriwal can be categorised twofold. The first are the institutional challenges. To bring about full statehood, or agree to come to compromise formula, would require significant contribution of the Centre. Full statehood for Delhi can only be achieved through a constitutional amendment which would require a two-third majority in Parliament. Will the BJP-led Centre, which refused to guarantee full statehood in their own vision document, agree to these demands, is going to determine any future course of action. 

The second challenge is about balancing the books while fulfilling all the promises made in the manifesto which is potentially very dangerous for the AAP. For, should they not deliver, they might not get another chance as the people will be bitterly disappointed because they have given the party a never-seen-before mandate.

(The writers are with Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi)

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