Kejriwal, Jung battle for Delhi

Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and Lieutenant Governor Najeeb Jung are once again pitted against each other on the issue of routing of official files in a high-decibel struggle that has revived memories of earlier flashpoints in Delhi’s power corridors.

 

While Kejriwal looks to breaking free from the central government’s indirect control over the city administration by not sending all official files to Raj Niwas, Jung has reminded him and the officials that all files relating to matters for which Legislative Assembly can make laws should come to the Lieutenant Governor for final approval.

The files-related tussle between the two power centres – Lieutenant Governor and Chief Minister – may be new but the grudge between the two seems old.  The seeds of this struggle were, perhaps, sown during Kejriwal’s 49-day stint as chief minister in 2014 during which Jung reminded him of the rules that barred tabling of the Jan Lokpal Bill without the President’s clearance. The Chief Minister later preferred to resign over the issue.A Kejriwal aide says the state government is keen to fight for its ‘legitimate rights’ that mandate consultation with the Chief Minister by the Lieutenant Governor on issues related to law and order, land and police.

“It is a question of demarcation of the boundaries,” says the aide. “Most of the provisions under which the powers have been assumed by the central government or the Lieutenant Governor have no parliamentary backing. These have been done under executive orders which will not stand judicial scrutiny,” says an Aam Aadmi Party leader. The matter now has landed before Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh with Jung claiming that two senior IAS officers are misleading Kejriwal by wrongly interpreting the Transaction of Business Rules 1993, and the Chief Minister seeking a clarification from the ministry on his rights to end the confusion on the movement of files.     Arvind Kejriwal’s image of an anti-corruption crusader has raised public expectations from him in his second innings on introduction of the Jan Lokpal legislation, which was at the root of his decision to step down after 49 days in office in 2014.

The same issue is likely to be revived next month as the Kejriwal government has announced that it will introduce the anti-corruption legislation in the Assembly in the Budget session. Whether Kejriwal follows the constitutional mandate of seeking the President’s nod before introducing the bill remains to be seen. However, the Chief Minister will be naive if once again takes the extreme step of threatening to resign after running into a wall on the issue.

The Kejriwal government has also been taking on Jung over matters related to police – a force controlled by the central government through the Lieutenant Governor.

Farmer’s suicideThe parallel probes launched by the Delhi government’s district magistrate and police into the farmer Gajendra Singh’s suicide at an Aam Aadmi Party rally at Jantar Mantar last month also brought out friction between the state government and the central government’s instrumentalities in the Capital. New Delhi District Magistrate Sanjay Kumar kept seeking information from police who refused to provide it, claiming that the matter was not under his jurisdiction. The police sent their report to the Union Home Ministry, instead of sharing it with the DM. 

Both the DM and police also recorded statements of separate witnesses in the case showing a trust deficit.

Experts say Kejriwal’s agenda to question the present scheme of things and shake up the system is also linked to his oft-repeated demand for full statehood for the Union Territory.  What he is looking for is a bigger say in law and order, land and police matters – all of which are currently controlled by the Lieutenant Governor. According to former Delhi chief secretary Omesh Saigal, Delhi’s statehood issue is not so simple and requires a matured and well-discussed decision. 

“Parliament’s nod would be required for any change in the current arrangement,” he says. Jung was the mouthpiece for the Kejriwal government’s vote of thanks in the inaugural Assembly session in February. In the very next month, the Kejriwal government flexed its muscles against Jung by passing a resolution to reverse a notification issued by him on July 23, 2014 for limiting the powers of the Anti-Corruption Branch by keeping central government employees out of its purview. However, last week’s arrest of a head constable from Sonia Vihar area by the ACB has ruffled the feathers of Delhi Police officials.  The law enforcers used the July 23 2014 notification of the central government to file an abduction case against ACB officers who arrested its head constable on a charge of receiving a Rs 20,000 bribe.

It is just a coincidence that police have also intensified their hunt for Tilak Nagar AAP MLA Jarnail Singh who is accused of forcibly stopping a civic agency’s demolition squad. Police Commissioner B S Bassi even went public and announced that the MLA is absconding and not joining the probe. Last month, Kejriwal gave another strong indication of the Delhi government’s relentless efforts to have a say in Delhi Police matters. In a letter issued by the Chief Minister’s office, the police commissioner was asked to share information on matters related to postings and transfers of police officials, including station house officers.

Kejriwal’s office referred to the rule book to point out that the state government should be consulted on issues related to policing, land and law and order. The Chief Minister also sought from police a list of dark spots in the city for enhancing lighting and security at these points for women’s security. 

Soon after the Assembly poll result in February, the AAP government also announced its desire to take control of the Delhi Traffic Police to improve the traffic situation. The government, however, realised that the demand could not be met soon. In March, the transport department stripped the traffic police of the power to impound autorickshaws for offences related to refusal to go to a commuter’s desired destination. Delhi is a UTFormer secretary of  Delhi Assembly S K Sharma says the Kejriwal government’s demands for powers similar to those enjoyed by other state governments may not stand judicial scrutiny.

“Delhi is a Union Territory and the powers of the Lieutenant Governor and the Chief Minister have been laid down in the Constitution. Any change in the arrangement would need legislative change,” he says.

Jung is right in following the rule book on movement of official files whereas the state government is trying to interpret the Transaction of Business Rules (TBR) 1993 in a way that gives it an upper hand, he says.

A former bureaucrat says Kejriwal was creating a fuss over lack of powers to send a message that he is working in an adverse condition.

“He went down as a martyr the last time over the Jan Lokpal Bill. This time round, he is shaking up the system by demanding control over police and targeting Lieutenant Governor’s domain,” he says.

“His voters sympathise with him as he is seen trying to undo the wrongs in the system,”  he adds.

Sharma says the latest controversy over sending files to Raj Niwas may see Jung emerge stronger as he is standing on judicially firm ground.“The Lieutenant Governor of Delhi is much stronger than governors in other states,” he says.

“The Constitution’s Article 239 AB empowers the LG to send a report or allows the President to impose President’s rule if the administration as per the constitution becomes difficult,” says Sharma.  

According to Rule 14 of the TBR, no Delhi cabinet decision can be implemented unless the LG is informed about it, Sharma says. And Rule 15 mandates that all cabinet ministers send a copy of the decisions related to their departments to the Lieutenant Governor.

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