The Constitution has made it clear that the LG can intercede, give interim directions to the government and, in case of difference of opinion, refer the matter to the President.
The ongoing tussle between the Lieutenant Governor and the chief minister of Delhi has escalated to new highs. Arvind Kejriwal has taken the fight over postings of senior IAS officers to Rashtrapati Bhavan; he has also demanded that the PM allows the city government to function ‘independently’ instead of trying to run it through the LG.
The question everyone is asking is, who is right and can an elected CM function if he does not get to post officers of his choice in key posts? To understand this, one needs to reflect not only on the law but much more on the practice which has evolved over the decades. Unlike full states, the cadre-controlling authority of IAS officers who service the states and Union Territories of Delhi, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Goa, Andaman & Nicobar Administration, Daman & Diu, Dadra & Nagar Haveli, Puducherry and Chandigarh is a body chaired by the Union home secretary with the concerned chief secretaries as members. Promotions and inter-state transfers are decided by this body, but within each constituent unit, postings are made by the concerned government.
In the case of Delhi, the LG decides the postings of officers at the level of principal secretary and above in consultation with the CM but lower-level postings are made by the CM in consultation with the chief secretary. This consultation is usually verbal, across the table or on the telephone, using the chief secretary as a bridge to relay the concerns and reservations if any. Details about seniority, suitability and integrity of the officers are supplied by the chief secretary and decisions are taken by mutual consent.
For the last 23 years, every CM, despite intermittent dissension, has got the chief secretary of his choice. On this occasion, the LG selected a woman whose name was on the panel and was senior to the name recommended by the CM. The grapevine says that there was no reason for her to be overlooked. When it came to the regular appointment of the chief secretary, the ministry of home affairs had done it in consultation with the CM and the LG, and KK Sharma, who was the chief secretary in Goa, was flown in because Kejriwal had sought his services. (The first name the CM had proposed was not agreed to as the officer had not reached the requisite level of seniority.)
When he did not get his way on the officiating charge matter, Kejriwal took the fight to the streets and asked a conclave of auto rickshaw drivers whether he did right or wrong by refusing to appoint the officer, alleging that she was backing a particular private power company—an accusation which apparently had no basis. Thereafter, another senior officer suffered the humiliation of being locked out of his room because the CM was upset that he carried out the LG’s orders contrary to his stated wishes. This has never been known to have happened in the annals of the politician-bureaucrat relationship. The LG was right to have used his authority once he discovered that his orders were not going to be executed and were, in fact, being wilfully defied, repeatedly.
Right or wrong, the Constitution has decided that Delhi is to be run on the principle of diarchy. The constitutional amendment, the National Capital Territory of Delhi Act and the Transaction of Business Rules have made it abundantly clear that the LG can intercede, give interim directions to the government and, in case of difference of opinion, refer the matter to the President. The posting of an interim chief secretary was a routine matter and that it has escalated into a full-blown controversy with hardening of positions on both sides is unfortunate. While what the LG did was correct within the scope of the law, the situation might have been avoided had there been gentler handling and direct communication from both sides.
Let us hope those channels can be restored for Delhi’s sake. A face-off will result in incalculable harm to the development of the city and the well-being of its citizens.