Delhi vs Centre: SC delivers split verdict on control of services, refers it to larger bench

Supreme Court of India

The Supreme Court on Thursday delivered a split verdict on the contentious issue of division of powers between the Delhi government and the Centre over control of services, covering issues like transfer of officials, and referred the matter to a larger bench.

A two-judge bench comprising Justices A K Sikri and Ashok Bhushan, however, agreed upon matters pertaining to the Anti-Corruption Branch (ACB), setting up of commissions of inquiry, control over electricity boards, land revenue matters and appointment of pubic prosecutors.

The bench upheld the Centre’s notification that its employees cannot be probed in corruption cases by the ACB, which is part of the Delhi government but controlled by the lieutenant governor (LG). It said instead of the LG, the Delhi government will have the right to appoint public prosecutors or law officers.

It also said the Delhi government will have authority over land revenue matters, including fixation of land revenue rates. The power to appoint enquiry commission will be with the Centre.

The top court said the Delhi government has the power to appoint or deal with electricity commission or board.

The bench differed on the issue of control of services in the national capital. Justice Sikri said that to facilitate smooth governance in Delhi, transfer and posting of secretaries and Head of Departments can be done by Lieutenant Governor (LG) while in case of officer of Delhi, Andaman and Nicobar Islands Civil Service (DANICS) and Delhi, Andaman and Nicobar Islands Police Service (DANIPS), the files need to be sent from the council of ministers to the LG.

“In case of difference of opinion, the view of LG should prevail, Justice Sikri said, adding, “For greater transparency, civil service board for transfer and posting of grade 3 and grade 4 employees should be constituted, like there is a board for IAS officers”.

Justice Bhushan, however differed with the opinion expressed by Justice Sikri and said that under the law, Delhi government has no power to exercise control over services.

He upheld the views expressed by Delhi High Court with respect to these services.

After the difference of opinion on the issue of control of services, the bench dictated the order and said the matter needs to be referred to a larger bench and views expressed by both the judges should be placed before the CJI for constitution of an appropriate bench.

On October 4, last year, the Delhi government had told the apex court that it wanted its petitions relating to governance of the national capital be heard soon as it did not want “stalemate to continue in administration”.

The Delhi government had told the top court that it wanted to know where it stands with regard to the administration in view of the Constitution bench verdict of apex court on July 4, 2018

The five-judge bench had on July 4, last year laid down broad parameters for governance of the national capital, which has witnessed a power struggle between the Centre and the Delhi government since the Aam Aadmi Party came to power in 2014.

In the landmark verdict, it had unanimously held that Delhi cannot be accorded the status of a state but clipped the powers of the LG, saying he has no “independent decision making power” and has to act on the aid and advice of the elected government.

On September 19, last year, the Centre had told the apex court that administration of Delhi cannot be left to the Delhi government alone and emphasised that it has an “extraordinary” position by virtue of being the country’s capital.

The Centre had told court that a five-judge constitution bench of the apex court had categorically held that Delhi cannot be accorded the status of a state.

The Centre had contended that one of the basic issues was that whether the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (GNCTD) has the legislative and executive powers so far as ‘services’ were concerned.

“Delhi has an extraordinary position as it is the capital of the country,” it had said.
It said that the national capital houses several institutions of vital importance like Parliament and the Supreme Court and foreign diplomats also resides here.

Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal had been at loggerheads with incumbent LG Anil Baijal and his predecessor Najeeb Jung. Kejriwal had accused both of them of preventing the functioning of his government at the behest of the BJP-led central government. PTI