SC says L-G has power to set up inquiry commission, gives split verdict ‘services’ issue

New Delhi: In a blow to the Arvind Kejriwal administration, the Supreme Court on Thursday held the lieutenant governor (L-G) has the power to set up an inquiry commission but gave a split verdict on the issue of jurisdiction on control of “services” in the national capital.

On November 1 last year, the apex court had reserved its verdict on pleas challenging notifications related to control over services, setting up of a commission of inquiry and the issue of jurisdiction over the Anti-corruption Bureau.

With the Centre and Delhi government at loggerheads on who has the jurisdiction to set up an inquiry commission, the judgment is a setback for the Aam Aadmi Party administration led by Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal.

A division bench comprising justices AK Sikri and Ashok Bhushan, however, differed on whether the L-G or Delhi government has control over “services” which includes transfer and posting of bureaucrats in the national capital.

In the split verdict, Justice Bhushan held that the issue of ‘services’ was totally outside the purview of the Delhi government.

In view of the difference of opinion, the judges decided that the matter be heard and decided by a larger bench.

Delivering the verdict, Justice Sikri held that transfers and posting of officers at the level of joint secretary and above will be under the domain of the L-G while other officers below joint secretary-level will fall under the Delhi government.

The bench unanimously held that the Centre/L-G has the power to set up an inquiry commission, a ruling which will allow the L-G to order an inquiry into corruption cases.

The bench also held that the Anti-corruption Bureau will also come under the Centre.

The Electricity Board will come under the Delhi government, which is the appropriate government under the Electricity Act. The Delhi government will also have the power to appoint special public prosecutors, the bench said.

The court said the Delhi government’s revenue department will decide minimum rates of agricultural land.

The Delhi government and the LG have had several tussles over bureaucratic appointments, security issues, appointment and transfer of bureaucrats, governance in the national capital.

The judgment came on a batch of appeals filed by the Delhi government arising out of the August 4, 2016 verdict of the Delhi High Court, in which it was held that the L-G was the administrative head of Delhi.

By its July 4, 2018 verdict, a five-judge Constitution bench of the apex court had held that the council of ministers had supremacy over the L-G in governance, except in matters of police, land and public order as they fell under the domain of the L-G’s executive powers.

Laying broad parameters for governance of the national capital, the top court had held that Delhi cannot be accorded the status of a state but also trimmed the powers of the L-G.

It said the LG has no “independent decision-making power” and has to act on the aid and advice of the elected government.