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Big Brother’s Bearhug

The inside story of the bid to supersede Delhi’s Aam Aadmi Party-led elected government​

Big Brother’s Bearhug
Half-Ticket To Power
Half-Ticket To Power
Photograph by Getty Images
Big Brother’s Bearhug
outlookindia.com
2016-10-12T14:17:13+0530
  • The Verdict: A two-judge Delhi HC bench ­concluded that the L-G is the administrative head of Delhi, not the elected government.
  • The LG’s Reaction: The LG said the high court verdict is neither “a victory for him nor a defeat for CM Arvind Kejriwal”.
  • Signs Of Paralysis: Excise collection has been affected. The appointment of public prosecutors is also pending.

***

The Supreme Court has asked Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal and Lieutenant-Governor (LG) Naj­­eeb Jung to stop playing a “blame game” and come together to fight the worst-ever chikungu­nya outbreak in the capital. The spat between Jung and Kejriwal, with the former asserting his authority, has nearly paralysed the functioning of the elected government. Jung’s supremacy had been established earlier, on August 4, when a division bench of Chief Justice G. Rohini and Justice Jayant Nath of the Delhi High Court concluded that the LG is the administrative head—the real boss. Farcical it may seem, but the chief minister can exercise his authority only in case of a notable exception—to appoint special public prosecutors. A beaming Jung declared, soon after the judgement was made public, that the high court has “clarified a few issues” and the verdict is neither “a victory for him nor a ­defeat for CM Arvind Kejriwal”.

Three days later, all files pertaining to decisions made by the Delhi government without the approval of the L-G were summoned to Raj Nivas. Two weeks later, on August 29, a “most urgent reminder” was sent out as “some departments are yet to comply fully”. It was more of a threat to fall in line or face the music: “Responsibility of the secretary/HoD concerned will be fixed jointly and severally, in the case any such matter comes to the notice of the (L-G’s) secretariat which should have been submitted earlier.”

Senior officials of various ­ministries meet the LG, take ­orders directly from him and hardly ever inform the ministers.

The same day, L-G issued an order: “In supersession of all previous orders,” the “approving authority” for transfer/posting of IAS/DANICS/ all-India services is L-G. For lower-level staff, it was either chief secretary or secretary (services). What about the role of the chief minister who heads an elected government? “The L-G may, in his discretion, obtain the views of the chief minister, wherever he deems it appropriate,” the order read, but in the nearly six weeks since, the L-G has hardly ever found it necessary to seek the CM’s views. With more than 400 files languishing in the L-G’s office, day-to-day functioning of the government is in abeyance. The Delhi Sec­retariat bore a des­erted look on a Monday evening with hardly any visitors. The ministers have little administrative work as the bur­eaucracy has stopped repor­ting to them. An elected government stands bypassed. The principal secretaries and senior officials meet the L-G, take ord­ers dir­ectly from him, and hardly ever take the trouble of informing the minister concerned about the decisions taken.

 Ministers in the Kejriwal cabinet have been sending reminders to get the files back, but to no avail. Excise collection has been affected. The appointment of public pro­secutors is also pending.

Various welfare projects face an ­uncertain future. Delhi health minister Satyendra Jain minces no words: “The L-G is trying to supersede an elected ­gov­­ernment. He gives INS­­­­tructi­ons, dir­ections and ord­ers to the officers ­dir­­e­ctly. I have seven sec­re­taries working in my min­istries, but only one keeps me in the loop.”

Delhi is a Union Territory and won’t be governed any differently from, say, Daman and Diu, AAP ministers are being expected to believe. Jain argues that it is not the case. “Delhi is a Union Territory ­alright, but with a legislature,” he says, adding that Articles 239 and 239AA of the constitution affirm it.

The L-G is shifting key officials in the middle of important projects. Take the case of the director-general of health ­services, Dr Tarun Seem, who was spearheading AAP’s flagship ‘Mohalla Clinic’ project. He was shown the door abruptly. Earlier, the L-G removed him from the post of health secretary. The L-G also dec­lared void the appointment of Krishna Saini as the chairman of Delhi Electricity Regulat­ory Commission (DERC).

Jain points out that Saini was strict with the three power distribution companies—two of have major stakes from the younger of the Ambani brothers—to ensure uninterrupted power supply and the rights of customers. The AAP government moved the Delhi High Court seeking directions against Saini’s removal and that the L-G be asked to reconsider his decision on the req­uest of the Delhi cabinet.

 Senior bureaucrats have been routinely transferred without the government’s knowledge, or, as in many cases, despite the CM’s protest. The list includes the managing ­dir­ector of the Delhi State Industrial Development Corporation, the PWD secretary and the industry secretary. “What we are seeing is not illegal per se, but is against the spirit of the Constitution. We are a dem­ocracy, after all,” says a principal secretary-level officer, who was transferred to the central government and has worked closely with both Kejriwal and Jung. No admirer of Kejriwal, he says “inexperience can cause serious problems” but also points out that elected representatives have a right to take decisions and make mistakes, for they would be held accountable for their actions in the next elections.

On August 30, the L-G formed a three-member committee, including V.K. Shinglu, former comptroller and auditor general, to examine the relevant files, identify decisions “in violation of the extant Acts/ rules” and recommend “appropriate action”. Some nine points of potential violations were listed, one of which was “foreign tours by ministers/ officers on official purposes at government expense without the approval of the competent authority”. It’s an interesting choice of person, for Shinglu headed an enquiry committee on irregularities in the organising of the Commonwealth Games (CWG) and had indicted the then CM Sheila Dikshit in certain CWG projects. Of course, the findings of the report were summarily ignored.

 A secretary-level officer in the Delhi government explains that the Transaction of Business of the Government of NCTD Rules, 1993, is ambiguous and open to misrepresentation, and at times misunderstanding. These rules grant too much discr­etion to the L-G to interfere and effe­ctively impede the government’s functioning on every issue. Dikshit, who was CM for 15 years and known to have had difficulties dealing with various L-Gs during her tenure, has said this more than once: “I run the Delhi government on goodwill.”

Kejriwal, in all earnestness—or perhaps in his impatience to get things done—“is assertive and belligerent, and that’s why he has failed to create an atm­osphere of goodwill,” says an IAS batchmate of Jung, who acknowledges, however, that “there is hardly any scope for goodwill bet­ween the two gentlemen”.

There is also a concerted move to discredit it as well. Delhi’s Anti-­­Corr­uption Branch (ACB) is headed by M.K. Meena, a special commissio­ner-level officer—too senior for this position—who is Jung’s cho­­ice. It was under Meena that the ACB filed a case in ­con­nection with an alleged Rs 400-crore water tanker scam linking Dikshit, after the Delhi government sent the report of a fact-­finding committee to Jung. Delhi BJP leader Vijender Gupta petitioned with Jung, accusing Kejriwal of “suppressing” the committee’s report for 11 months, and so Meena named both Dikshit and Kejriwal in the FIR—the latter for not acting on the report earlier. Another case was filed by the ACB against Swati Maliwal in connection with “administrative and financial irregularities” in the functioning of the Delhi Commission for Women. And then there is the widely held perception that AAP MLAs are pet targets of the Delhi police.

At the time of going to press, the lieutenant-governor’s ­office was yet to res­pond to Outlook’s queries.

Ironically, the ruling party at the Centre, the BJP, had also promised full-statehood to Delhi. All eyes are now on the apex court, which will decide next month whether the Delhi government is merely a glorified municipality or not.

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