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Delhi-Centre power row: Supreme Court rules in favour of Delhi government, says it has control over services

The apex court declared that the rights to control services must reside with the democratically-elected government
Last Updated : 11 May 2023, 14:17 IST

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The Supreme Court on Thursday declared that a democratically elected government should have control over its officers, as it ruled in favour of the Delhi government on its dispute with the Centre on appointment and postings in civil services, including Indian Administrative Services.

"Our model of federalism expects a sense of cooperation between the Union at the centre, and the regional constitutionally recognised democratic units. The spirit of cooperative federalism requires the two sets of democratic governments to iron out their differences that arise in the practice of governance and collaborate with each other," the top court said.

A five-judge Constitution bench presided over by Chief Justice of India D Y Chandrachud said the Union and the Delhi governments need to cooperate in a similar manner to the Union and the States.

"Our interpretation of the Constitution must enhance the spirit of federalism and democracy together," it said.

The bench said a constitutionally entrenched and democratically elected government needs to have control over its administration and the administration comprises several public officers, who are posted in the services of a particular government, irrespective of whether or not that government was involved in their recruitment.

Noting sui generis character of the National Capital Territory of Delhi, the court said the Union and NCTD shared a unique federal relationship and it did not mean that NCTD is subsumed in the unit of the Union merely because it is not a “State”.

"If a democratically elected government is not provided with the power to control the officers, then the principle underlying the triple-chain of collective responsibility would become redundant" the Constitution bench said in its judgement.

The triple chain of command is: a. Civil service officers are accountable to ministers; b. Ministers are accountable to Parliament/legislature; and c. Parliament/legislature is accountable to the electorate, it said.

The bench, also comprising Justices M R Shah, Krishna Murari, Hima Kohli and P S Narasimha emphasised that if the government is not able to control and hold to account the officers posted in its service, then its responsibility towards the legislature as well as the public is diluted as an officer recruited by a particular government may serve on deputation with another government.

"The principle of collective responsibility extends to the responsibility of officers, who in turn report to the ministers. If the officers stop reporting to the ministers or do not abide by their directions, the entire principle of collective responsibility is affected,” the bench said.

The court further pointed out if the officers feel that they are insulated from the control of the elected government which they are serving, then they become unaccountable or may not show commitment towards their performance.

With regard to Lieutenant Governor, the bench said: “in light of Article 239AA and the 2018 Constitution bench judgment, the Lieutenant Governor is bound by the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers of NCTD in relation to matters within the legislative scope of NCTD”.

The bench said that the legislative and executive power of Delhi government except on subjects related to “public order”, “police”, and “land”.

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Published 11 May 2023, 06:25 IST

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