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Last week, the Delhi Police, reporting to the Union Ministry of Home Affairs, interrogated Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal in a flimsy case of alleged assault of the Chief Secretary by certain Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) Members of Legislative Assembly for over three hours. This was unprecedented in the annals of democratic politics in this country, as in most other states the police answers to the political executive and not the other way round.
This incident was preceded by the Election Commission of India (ECI) disqualifying 20 AAP MLAs for allegedly holding an office-of-profit. This ruling was soon struck down, summarily, by the Delhi High Court which contended that ECI’s ruling was “bad in law” and antithetical to the principles of natural justice.
Both these incidents are a tragic and unfortunate manifestation of a deep-rooted problem — the peculiar and unresolved constitutional position of Delhi as a city, as a state and last but not the least, as the national capital of India.
Since the AAP came to power in Delhi, riding on the back of a massive victory of 67/70 seats in 2015, continuous administrative tussles between the CM and the Lieutenant Governor (LG) of the day have made news, with the AAP bearing the brunt of an unfairly loaded dice that has been handed to it. Meaning to say, Delhi is a state which enjoys the powers of a ‘democratically’-elected legislature and a Chief Minister but the central government of the day ‘un-democratically’ runs its writ large and overrules the will of the people through a constitutional figurehead, the LG.
It is all about accountability
The central premise of democratic accountability is that citizens elect politicians in order to hold unelected bureaucrats accountable. That is precisely why we have elections: to vote to office political leaders who can provide that change to the populace and may not necessarily be aligned to the status quo way of doing things. And when in office, accountability is a key lever of performance and governance.
As such, there exists an iron-clad case for providing Delhi with statehood. Here is why:
(1) In absence of statehood and unclear jurisdiction of powers, today, Delhi is ridden by the rule of the unelected bureaucracy which follows in letter and spirit the maxim of — it is more expensive to do things cheaply; it is slower to do things quickly and it is more democratic to do things in secret.
However, the common citizens rarely crave the indulgence of such status quo-ist regimes for long. People want change, tangible change and progress. If the public representatives — the CM and his Council of Ministers — are denied an opportunity to fully exercise their power, then this is tantamount to suppressing the voice of the people and as a consequence a complete disregard of the administrative democracy – the unimpeachable bedrock upon which our federal polity is based.
Granting statehood to Delhi would enable the vestment of actual administrative powers in the hands of the elected representatives who can then be held accountable by the public.
(2) Delhi presently suffers from the much-documented bane of ‘multiplicity of authorities’. More than 10 authorities, with overlapping jurisdictional scopes, managed by different political parties, and an extremely parochial ‘in-silo’ approach towards governance, puts the onus of obtaining efficient public services on the citizen — a complete role-reversal of the intended administrative structure in a modern democracy.
This leads to erosion of accountability of any individual authority, and only losers in this are the citizens of Delhi.
Statehood would mean that a single nodal authority, the elected Delhi government, would be responsible for all functions of Delhi — law and order, land, anti-corruption, municipal functions of waste collection, water, sewage, etc — and that the central government’s spasmodic control over authorities would reduce.
(3) Delhi, where law and order, and as a direct consequence the Delhi Police, comes directly under the jurisdiction of the Centre and not the state, recently witnessed a horrific crime when an eight-month-old baby (dubbed baby Nirbhaya) was raped brutally.
As per Delhi Police data, the number of rapes reported in Delhi each year has registered an increase of almost 277 per cent — from 572 in 2011 to 2,155 incidents in 2016. What’s more, as per National Crime Records Bureau data, even though the average rate of crimes reported per 100,000 children in India is 21.1, Delhi reported a staggering 169.4 cases per 100,000 children.
Clearly, the state of policing in Delhi is abject and one that suffers from a lack of accountability to the people. In such a scenario, statehood for Delhi would mean that the policing functions come under the direct purview of the elected state government (barring the policing of Lutyens’ Delhi area where sensitive central government ministries, as well as foreign embassies, are located) and that people can question the state government for any slip-ups in the law and order paraphernalia of Delhi.
Granting Delhi statehood is the right thing to do
In the Union Budget (2001-02), Delhi was allocated Rs 335 crore as its share in central taxes and duties, while Union Budget (2018-19) allocated Rs 325 crores — a marked stagnancy during the past two decades. On the contrary, during this period, Delhi government’s budget has increased by 450 per cent from Rs 8,739 crores to Rs 48,000 crores with a corresponding increase in tax collection from Rs 4,400 crores to Rs 48,000 crores, a jump of 991 per cent – a clear reflection of the aspirations of a rapidly growing capital city.
It is startling, then, that there has been no commensurate increase in Delhi’s share in Union taxes, given the fact that Delhi has a decadal population growth rate averaging almost 50 per cent and is the nerve centre of trade, commerce and tourism in North India.
To this end, the 14th Finance Commission, in February 2015, recommended that the share of all states in the Union tax revenues increase from 32 per cent to 42 per cent. However, Delhi was not considered for this increase on the pretext of being a Union Territory. Granting Delhi statehood would result in it getting its full share in the Finance Commission’s devolution of taxes.
Additionally, even a perfunctory perusal of the Constituent Assembly debates, particularly the ones between Lala Deshbandhu Gupta and the members of the drafting committee, betray the fact that it was never the intention of the drafting committee to keep Delhi deprived of a form of local government akin to that in full states.
Toxic politics is hurting the welfare of Delhi’s citizens
Both the Congress and the BJP have, over the years, preached, with vigour, before an impending election, that they want statehood for Delhi only to go silent if not elected to power. This is largely on account of political insecurity that stems from a scenario when a different political party than one at the Centre comes to power and takes decisions which are politically beneficial to the fortunes of the elected party and detrimental to those of the party at the Centre. As such, keeping the state government handicapped and on a leash is a suitable solution to meet the parochial political ends espoused by both these parties.
This tendency has risen dramatically since the AAP came to power, a new entrant in Indian politics, by decimating both the Congress and the BJP in Delhi, which was once a flourishing stomping ground of both these parties. The collateral damage of these skirmishes has been borne by the unsuspecting people of Delhi who elected a legitimate government in 2015.
Even a survey conducted by C-Voter in 2015 showed that an overwhelming majority, over 80 per cent, of the people surveyed wanted statehood for Delhi.
It is time that the BJP and the Congress keep aside their political differences and support the AAP in its bid of statehood for Delhi. Otherwise, the wrath of Delhi’s citizens might, in future elections, end up relegating the BJP and the Congress to the done-and-dusted pile of political extinction.