The Aam Aadmi Party's unprecedented electoral victory in Delhi has revived the debate on full statehood to Delhi. But how practical is the statehood for the national capital? What are the issues? To discuss these issues, ORF organised a panel discussion with experienced bureaucrats, academics and experts.
The Aam Aadmi Party’s unprecedented electoral victory in Delhi recently has revived the debate on full statehood to Delhi. It must be noted that the constitutional status of the city has been debated since time immemorial and has gone through numerous changes, from the 1958 structure of having an elected chief minister, to the 1966 framework of a Metropolitan and Executive Council, to the present day format. With administering the capital becoming increasingly difficult, the demand for statehood is even higher today, for it is seen by many as the only way Delhi can prosper. To find answer to some of these questions, Observer research Foundation organised a panel discussion titled “Full Statehood for Delhi?” in Delhi on February 27. The discussion was chaired by former Union Cabinet Secretary and now Advisor to ORF, Mr Surendra Singh. Eminent experts, practitioners, academics and others participated in the discussion.
Mr. Surendra Singh noted that the debate over the constitutional status of Delhi, and whether it should be granted full-statehood, has once again taken precedence, particularly after the unfortunate rape of a young girl in December 2013 and the inability of the then Delhi Government to hold the police accountable, for police is out of the state legislature’s jurisdiction.
Mr. M.R. Madhavan, President of the PRS Legislative Research, explained the current constitutional framework which governs the national capital. He stated that Delhi is a Union Territory as listed in the Schedule 1 of the Constitution. He explained that Article 239 AA requires Delhi to form an elected Legislative Assembly which is empowered to legislate on all subjects in the State List of Schedule V11 except those related to public order, police and land. He went further to explain Article 239-AA (3) (b) which states that despite the powers of the legislative Assembly, the Parliament can still legislate on any subject matter and in case of differences, the legislation made by Parliament shall prevail. Article 239 AA (4) states that in the case of any differences between the Lt. Governor and the Chief Minister, the Lt. Governor shall refer the matter to the President and act according to the decisions taken by the President and pending such decision, it shall be competent for the Lt. Governor in any case where the matter in his opinion is so urgent that it is necessary for him to take immediate action, to take such action. This further empowers the Central Government as it appoints the Lt. Governor and the President has to act according the aid and advise of the Union Cabinet.
Mr. Dhirendra Singh, former Home Secretary and Member Secretary, Punchhi Commission on Centre-State Relations, discussed the topic under three broad heads — history, practicality and symbolic significance. Discussing the Charter of Act 1833, he explained that this Act created the post of Governor General, also the position of Government of India, which further led to Calcutta being the capital of India. Calcutta was therefore the capital of India and of the province of Bengal. The Minto-Morley reforms of 1909 introduced elected representatives both for the Imperial Council and for the States. For Calcutta, this meant two different sets of elected representatives, something we see in Delhi today. In 1911, the proposal was made to shift the capital from Calcutta to Delhi. The Government of India Act of 1854 was used to make an Imperial Conclave in Delhi, which till then was a part of Punjab. Moving to the practicality and good governance, Mr. Singh noted that due to the large population of Delhi, there is a growing demand for statehood, even though the geographic area of the city isn’t very large. However, taking note of historical precedent, he stated that the national capital of a union cannot also be the national capital of a state/province. He further backed this argument by stating it is also symbolically and emotionally necessary for the people in a republic to have a national capital — and in case this is merged with the capital of a state, it can harbour adversarial emotions in the rest of the country.
Ms. Shailaja Chandra, former Chief Secretary of Delhi Government, shared her rich experiences on administering and governing the national capital. She stated that Delhi was never a mega-city. However in the last decade or so, it has grown exponentially and by 2025 it is projected to be the second biggest mega-city in the world. Speaking on the political environment in the national capital, Ms. Chandra stated her concerns over vote-bank politics — the constituency of unauthorised colonies which constitute 30% of voters. Both the Delhi government and the Central government have promised regularisation without explaining where the money is going to come from. Developmental charges don’t get votes. Problems of no sewerage, no roads, and fragile structures are not seen through a practical lens. Similar challenges are faced by slum clusters which house over 18 lakh people in about 25000 housing units. On issues of migration, she stated with Delhi having one of the highest per-capita income, a number of non-professional migrants come to the national capital in search of employment. This has led to people settling in any kind of tenement such as 8 people living in a room. This has further led to development of urban villages which have no framework of governance and no by-laws. To address these issues and various others, she highlighted that it is not necessary for Delhi to get full-statehood and that to achieve good governance, a Chief Minister can do a lot with his/her current powers. What is required, she said, is better coordination and the development of mutual trust between the Central Government and the State Government.
Ms. Shazia Ilmi, member of the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP), stated that bifurcating the governance systems in Delhi is a logistical and administrative nightmare as Delhi houses the central government, embassies, cantonments and various other national institutions which are the sole responsibility of the Union. She said it is a classic case of one wanting something and then not knowing what to do with it.
Mr. Shakti Sinha, former Finance Secretary in Delhi Government and now Director of South Asian Institute of Strategic Affairs, highlighted examples from other federal countries and the status of their national capitals. Washington D.C., he pointed out, became a self-governing city in 1973 and the people of Washington D.C. got the right to vote in Presidential election only in 1961. Further, D.C. has no voting member and only one non-voting member in the House of Congress. Also, the police force comes under the jurisdiction of the mayor and the budget for the national capital is approved by the Congress. Canberra has a very similar framework to that of Delhi that it has a democratically elected Mayor. For the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), there is no separate administrator, but laws passed by the Canberra Assembly can be reversed by the Australian Parliament. The jurisdiction of the Canberra Assembly is education, training, health, economic development, environment and justice.
Speaking about Delhi, Mr Sinha made it clear that he felt the system that exists today is a system designed to fail. He cited various examples of why he felt so, one such being the over lapping jurisdictions of multiple civic bodies. He said that in Delhi, the MCD, the NDMC, the Cantonment Board, and the Delhi Government were all responsible for building and running hospitals.
The event closed with an open and lively discussion on various aspects raised by the panellists. In his closing remarks, Mr. Surendra Singh noted that it is a distinct phenomenon in Delhi that when political parties are out of power, they promise statehood for the capital and when in power go back on their word. He also highlighted how new States have been created by both national parties without setting up the second States Re-Organization Commission.
(This report is prepared by Shubh Soni, Research Intern, Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)