A two judge bench of the Supreme Court pronounced its judgment in the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) versus the Centre case on Thursday on a bunch of petitions seeking clarification from it on six contentious issues. These issues were related to jurisdiction over the Anti-Corruption Branch (ACB), services, appropriate government under the Commission of Enquiry Act, electricity reforms, revision of minimum rates of agricultural land and the power to appoint special public prosecutor.
The Supreme Court bench of Justices AK Sikri and Ashok Bhushan concurred on five of these issues in their judgments while referred the matter related to services to a bigger bench for final disposal.
• Anti-Corruption Branch: The AAP came to power in Delhi in 2015 on the promise of fighting corruption following an anti-graft agitation led by activists Anna Hazare and Arvind Kejriwal among others. The ACB became a bone of contention between the Arvind Kejriwal government of Delhi and the Centre in mid-2015 after the Lieutenant Governor replaced the ACB chief.
The AAP then alleged that the LG acted at the behest of the Centre, which feared that the ACB would lodge a case against a Union minister. The Supreme Court ruling has now settled the matter in Centre’s favour.
• Services: The transfer and posting of officials have been another point of conflict between the AAP government and the Centre. The latest Supreme Court judgment is divided on the question of jurisdiction.
Justice Sikri ruled that the LG can order transfer and posting of officers of the rank of joint secretary and above (i.e. belonging to the all India public services) but in the case of DANICS (for Union Territories) officers, the Delhi government should have the power to order transfer and posting.
Justice Bhushan differed with him and the matter was referred to a bigger bench. The issue remains unresolved and in such a case, July 2018 verdict of the Supreme Court will continue to prevail. It had placed services under the LG’s jurisdiction. But the LG had to work on “aid and advice” of the elected government.
• Commission of Enquiry Act: The question before the Supreme Court was to define “appropriate government” under this law. The court settled the matter in favour of the Centre.
• Electricity reforms: The AAP government emerged as winner in the matters of electricity reforms. The Supreme Court ruled that the NCT government holds jurisdiction over the matters related to electricity.
• Revision of minimum rates of agricultural land: As a matter of rule, land in Delhi is a subject that falls under the jurisdiction of the Centre. However, the Supreme Court ruled that the Delhi government has the power to revise the minimum rates of agricultural land. In case of differences, the LG can refer the matter to the President, that is, the Centre.
• Power to appoint Special Public Prosecutor: The Centre had contended that the AAP government did not have independent power to appoint special public prosecutor. The Supreme Court overruled the Centre’s objection to settle the matter in favour of the Kejriwal government.
The Kejriwal government has been at loggerheads with LG Anil Baijal and had a tumultuous working relation with his predecessor Najeeb Jung. Delhi Chief Minister Kejriwal accused them both of them of creating obstacles in the smooth functioning of the AAP government at the behest of the BJP-led central government.
The power struggle between the AAP and the Centre began soon after formation of the Kejriwal government in Delhi in 2015. The Supreme Court pronounced a verdict over the distribution of power between the NCT government and the Centre in July last year, when it also said that the LG did not have “independent decision making powers” and should act in consultation with the elected government.
First Published: Feb 14, 2019 12:34 IST