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Delhi, today, faces a situation similar to that of the early 1600s in Great Britain, when King Charles I ruled absolutely and completely – under the umbrage of the Royal Prerogative – with zero accountability to Parliament. Similarly, the Lieutenant Governor (LG) of Delhi, a political appointee of the BJP-led central government, rules without regard to the democratic and federal structure that is enshrined in our Constitution and treats Delhi as his personal sultanate by arrogating the powers of the elected chief minister, Arvind Kejriwal.
The latest flashpoint in the raging tempest between the AAP-led Delhi government and the LG is: Installation of CCTVs across Delhi.
A few months ago, the state government had moved a proposal to install over 1.4 lakh CCTV cameras in all residential areas and important marketplaces of Delhi by October this year. In response, the LG, typically and without consulting the state government, constituted a panel of bureaucrats, who will report to him directly bypassing the minister concerned, to study the feasibility of CCTV installation – an unnecessary and time-consuming exercise when the state government in wide-ranging public consultations with each Resident Welfare Association (RWA) of Delhi had already undertaken a feasibility study.
The intention of the LG was clear – to hijack the government’s role by putting spanners in the wheel.
In response, Kejriwal declared the committee formed by the LG as null-and-void, wrote to the Prime Minister requesting him to let his government function, and, on Monday, marched with his Cabinet and MLAs to the LG’s Office, where the LG refused to meet these public representatives who waited outside for nearly three hours in the scorching Delhi heat.
Let us try and understand what the current conflict is all about.
Delhi’s rising crime graph and weakening law and order
Delhi, where law and order and the Delhi Police come directly under the jurisdiction of the LG and not the state government, witnessed an appalling crime a few months ago. An eight-month-old infant was brutally raped. Sadly, it was not an isolated incident.
After the Nirbhaya rape case of 2012, that shocked the collective conscience of the nation, it was widely expected that the Delhi Police would dramatically improve its functioning and the public outrage would lead to political masters taking serious reform measures to improve policing and law and order in the national capital. But the expectations did not bear fruit.
Delhi Police and their political masters’ apathetic and lacklustre attitude towards a deteriorating law and order situation is akin to the infamous murder case of South African anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko, where the police chief proudly proclaimed: “Police follows no statute!”
Against this background, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), in the lead-up to the 2015 Delhi elections, promised the citizens of the city that once elected to power, it would install CCTV cameras in residential areas and crowded marketplaces which will, to a reasonable degree, act as deterrents against crime overall and ensure safety of women, in particular.
In fact, global experience has shown, conclusively, that the police tend to act swiftly and cases are solved faster when confronted with video-graphic evidence (by way of CCTV cameras) of crime or unscrupulous activities.
Despite facing continuous opposition from an intransigent bureaucracy and a non-cooperative LG, the Delhi government, in late 2017, formulated a detailed project (modelled on the NDMC model of CCTV installation) wherein the government’s Public Works Department would install 1.4 lakh CCTV cameras across Delhi and each of the 70 Assembly constituencies would get 2,000 cameras each.
All 70 MLAs (both of AAP or BJP) were directed to hold public consultations with RWAs and market associations, in their respective constituencies, to ascertain the spots where CCTV cameras would be installed.
After a failed tender, the cabinet decided to award the project, on a nomination basis, to Navratna PSU Bharat Electronics (BEL), wherein the onus of operation and maintenance would lie with the concessionaire for the first five years, and, afterwards, the respective RWA would take over. Live feed would not only be shared with the RWA but also with the Delhi Police for immediate redressal. This would make Delhi the first state in India to have such an advanced method of policing and crime-surveillance.
However, all of a sudden and quite belatedly, once the tender was awarded, the LG constituted a committee of senior bureaucrats to study the plan’s feasibility.
To any layman who follows the politics of Delhi closely, this was a clear red herring – a dilatory tactic and nothing more. This committee, like other bureaucratic committees, all relics of an outmoded Whitehall system of civil services, would make a lot of noise, create policies and rules which only ivory-tower bureaucrats can make, and, in the end, achieve nothing more than derail a smoothly functioning CCTV project.
But more importantly, the constitution of this committee marked another chapter in the continuous and unheralded invasion of the LG into the rights and powers of a democratically elected government in Delhi.
The Delhi High Court judgment of August 4, 2016, had made it clear that only the subject matters of land, police, law and order and services would come under the purview of the LG and he was, as per a reading of Article 239AA of the Constitution, bound and supposed to act upon the aid and advice of the council of ministers on other issues.
However, the BJP is misusing the constitutional post of the LG to indirectly further its political partisanship with the AAP. Moreover, the onus of accountability at the time of elections falls upon the MLAs and not the LG. It is the MLAs who have to face a volley of questions from concerned citizens. Therefore, the elected government should be allowed to work on areas under its remit, fully and completely.
It is truly unfortunate that things have come to such a pass. In its desperation for an undemocratic and unprecedented power grab, the BJP, which is still smarting from the humiliating drubbing that Kejriwal doled out to them in the 2015 Delhi elections, has thrown the rule-book out of the window and is hurting the welfare of Delhi’s citizens at the cost of its toxic and petty politics of vendetta.