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A Law to Bring Some Order in Delhi

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By Sidharth Mishra

Last week Parliament passed the National Capital Territory of Delhi (Amendment) Bill, 2021, which reaffirmed the fact that government in Delhi meant the Lieutenant Governor and not the cabinet headed by the Chief minister. The passage of the bill has been decried by the Opposition as murder of democracy. There is a disagreement on this.

Democracy is not necessariy a synonym for anarchic, disorderly administration, something which we have been witness to post-2013, when the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) for the first time came to power. The NCT Act, passed in 1991, gave assembly to the union territory of Delhi but it always meant the legislative process to be closely supervised by the Centre through the Lieutenant Government.

This was necessary given the special status of the national Capital strategically and the huge funds released by the Centre to keep the Delhi government going. The chief ministers preceding the present incumbent Arvind Kejriwal always worked with this understanding despite on several occasions different parties ruling at the Centre and in the state.

Late Sheila Dikshit, who had a very fruitful 15 year tenure as CM, once in an interview had admitted that she enjoyed a more comfortable relationship with the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government at the Centre than during her own party's rule. The controversy around the relationship between the Chief Minister and the Lieutenant Governor, often a faceless career bureaucrat, started to make news largely post-2013.

As mentioned earlier, the special status for Delhi emanates from it being the national Capital. The first demand for freeing the city administration from the apron strings of the Centre was made way back in the 1950s by Delhi’s first Chief Minister Chaudhary Brahm Prakash. Delhi then was a Category C state with a legislative assembly.

This was unpalatable to the Centre and the Jawaharlal Nehru did not hesitate to replace Prakash for making the demand and converted Delhi into a Union Territory in 1956. The assembly was restored in 1993 following the passage of NCT Act.

The present governance model gives Delhi a cash rich government. Governments in Delhi may complain about not being allowed a free run, as in the case of other states, but at the same time, it should not be forgotten that the pampered and prime status of Delhi is all thanks to the Centre’s intervention.

Delhi’s annual budget today is almost Rs 65,000 crore. The sum is much bigger than the budget of several full-fledged state governments despite the fact that the budget does not include the expenditure on Delhi Police, which is part of the Union Budget. Even the responsibility for pension liabilities of former Delhi government employees lies with the Centre.

The Delhi government’s budget also only partly funds the three municipal corporations; the remaining amount comes through their own revenue models and Central funding. Delhi Government contributes no funds to the New Delhi Municipal Council and Delhi Development Authority (DDA). These civic bodies raise their own revenues and the shortfall is again met by the Central Government. The combined Delhi’s budget outlay is about Rs 95,000 crore.

Those who have followed the functioning of the Delhi administration for long years would vouch that if the Delhi government lives within its means, it has unlimited fiscal autonomy, like any other state. However, this state of affairs is dependent on its positive cash balance.

Once the city government spends beyond its means and acts beyond its brief, it loses that autonomy and becomes a subordinate office of the Home Ministry, like other Union Territories.

(First Published in The Morning Standard)


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