Statehood for Delhi is back in the public eye. The Congress and AAP have been needling the BJP for refusing to make a clear commitment to support the demand. Ironically, a Bill to grant statehood was tabled by then deputy prime minister LK Advani in 2003 but it lapsed with the 13th Lok Sabha.
At the time of Independence Delhi was administered by a chief commissioner and after a few changes the Metropolitan Council was set up in 1966 and it was empowered to deliberate and recommend but not legislate. Finally in 1991 Parliament passed the Government of the National Capital Territory of Delhi (GNCT) Act, inserting a special provision in the Constitution.
Two years later, a 70-member assembly was sworn in. The assembly was given the powers to govern and make laws except on three subjects — public order, police and land. But all other subjects that fall under the ambit of other states devolved on Delhi. These include 64 entries in the state list and 47 on the concurrent list of the Constitution. But in violation of the constitutional provision, even in respect of subjects that have nothing to do with the reserved subjects of public order, police and land, a sizeable portion of authority continued to be exercised by the Central government.
There are some 60 matters relating to municipal governance that cannot be administered without the acquiescence of the Union government. The Delhi assembly can pass an amendment but unless the Bill is approved by the lieutenant governor (LG) and the ministries of urban development and home affairs and receives the assent of the President, it cannot become law. This course had to be followed over months when the Property Tax Amendment Bill was enacted in 2003. And that when there was, for once, perfect understanding and agreement between the Central and Delhi governments to effect the amendment. The moot point is: Why did this amendment Bill, which brought huge benefits to tens of thousands of Delhi house-owners, require the approval of the ministries of urban development and home affairs and presidential assent? Only because the MCD Act has not been amended in consonance with the Constitution — something only Parliament can do but no one is keen to take that course. The experience of the past 24 years is evidence of the extreme reluctance that prevails when it comes to giving up power despite the existence of a constitutional provision that over-rides the statute.
Another anachronism is the continuing control of the Delhi Development Authority by the ministry of urban development. The DDA was established in 1957 by an Act of Parliament to promote and secure a planned spatial development of Delhi. Its mandate is primarily to acquire land for the development of new areas and to hand the same over to the relevant authority once developed. But by enlarging its powers and jurisdiction, the DDA also built and managed huge townships like Rohini and Dwarka, besides flyovers, sports complexes and housing for low- to higher-income citizens. After the GNCT Act came into force in 1993, it begs the question as to why the DDA should not be reporting to the chief minister of Delhi. The second Administrative Reforms Commission (during the UPA rule) had strongly recommended that the DDA should be chaired by the chief minister of Delhi instead of the LG, noting that more than 50 provisions continue to require a nod from the Centre. Nevertheless little has changed.
When it comes to the DDA, the amendment of just one section in the DDA Act can place the body under the chairmanship of the chief minister. Even so all powers that rest with the Union government under the Act could and should remain because macro planning for the national capital requires long-term thinking and sound technical advice, which the ministry of urban development is far better equipped to provide. Day-to-day decisions would, however, be taken by the chief minister and the approval of the Union government obtained exactly as is done today.
Is there any plausible reason why full statehood should be denied? Yes. As the national capital, the Union government has the responsibility for the city’s orderly growth and security. That can be achieved by continuing with the Central government exercising powers of oversight by retaining a few supervisory sections that are already in the law. The NDMC too should remain as it is now under the Central government, which would take care of all that matters to the Central government. Sensitive areas like foreign missions, the Red Fort area and some others as may be notified should remain with the Central government.
The Delhi government also has no say in police administration and law and order. This is administered by the ministry of home affairs, through the LG. A balance can be found by having the monitoring meetings with the senior police heads chaired by the chief minister when there is an opportunity to discuss issues which are local, specific and affecting people’s well-being. That would help allay fears about police non-responsibility that prevails.
Finally there is the question of funding. The budget of the government of Delhi is around Rs 40,000 crore, of which the city raises only about three-fourths. Delhi, with a population approaching 20 million (more than 10 full-fledged states), badly needs to take recourse to market borrowing but, not being a state, cannot do so. If Delhi is given statehood subject to restrictions on borrowing, it would enable the state to raise the resources that are required to build a world-class city.
The issue is not statehood for the sake of statehood. It is a necessity for the nation’s capital and one of the most populated cities in the world. It simply cannot continue to be governed by remote control.