Supreme Court refuses to stay High Court verdict holding LG as head of Delhi

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday refused to stay a Delhi High Court verdict giving primacy to Lt Governor Najeeb Jung in Delhi’s administrative affairs but sought the Centre’s response on a batch of petitions by the Delhi government challenging the August 4 ruling.

Issuing notice to the Centre and the Lt Governor, the bench of Justice A.K. Sikri and Justice N.V. Ramana gave the Centre six weeks to file its response and gave the Delhi government two weeks to file a rejoinder to the Centre’s reply.

Delhi government has filed seven petitions assailing different issues that have surfaced in the tussle between the elected Kejriwal government and Lt. Governor.

On a suggestion by senior counsel K.K. Venugopal, who led the arguments for the Delhi government, that the matter may be referred to a constitution bench, the bench said it will consider the plea in the course of hearing.

The court fixed November 15 for the final hearing of the petitions.

At the outset of the hearing, Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi said the petition by Delhi government was not maintainable as it was flawed because it has been sworn by the Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia.

He said that petitions are filed by the Chief Secretary or secretary of the concerned department.

Raising further objection to the maintainability of the Delhi government’s petition, the AG said that it was a settled issue that Delhi was a Union Territory and not a State. He said that nine judges bench in 1996 had ruled that Delhi was a Union Territory and not State.

Meeting the objections raised by the Attorney General, senior counsel Venugopal said that the LG has said that no petition can be filed without his permission and has even instructed the bureaucrats not to report to the political executive.

Venugopal said that the issue before the court was not whether Delhi was a Union Territory or a State but was – “can the Lt. Governor who is a public servant under the Central government take over the entire governance of the NCT Delhi by taking final decision in every matter”.

“If that (Delhi being a State or a UT) is not the issue, then nothing is left (to be adjudicated),” AG told the bench interjecting in the arguments of Venugopal.

Venugopal said it is not the State which is the issue but whether the Lt. Gov could take over the entire administration leaving no role for the popularly elected government, defending Kejriwal government’s stance that the LG should act on the aid and advice of the council of ministers.

Describing the Lt. Governor as an “employee of the Centre” having “master-servant relationship”, Venugopal said that the LG was “vulnerable” as he could be “transferred or terminated”. He (LG) “has tied the hands of the secretaries and was thwarting the hands of the elected government.”

Venugopal said the issue being raised affects not only the popularly elected present Delhi government but future governments as well.

“Entirety of the elected government has been reduced to a recommendatory government, which will recommend all the decisions” but decision will be taken by the LG, Venugopal said describing the situation as “extraordinary”.

Assailing the appointment of three-member committee by the Lt. Governor that is inquiring into 400 files, senior counsel Gopal Subramanium said that “all the 400 files have been taken away by the Committee. Government can’t function like this. The Committee will fix criminal liability, find faults because previous approval was not taken.”

“You can’t have a fault finding inquiry,” Subramanium told the bench.

Venugopal described the committee as a Commission of Inquiry.

As Attorney General objected to the plea that inquiry into 400 files by the committee should be put on hold, Subramanium said, “It is not the voice that should be vociferous, but the point being made should be vociferous.”