ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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A Legitimate Demand

Statehood for Delhi

The Supreme Court’s interpretation of Article 239-AA of the Constitution in Government of NCT of Delhi v Union of India has reaffirmed the centrality of representative democracy and federalism to India’s constitutional government. However, it has only restored an unhappy status quo as far as Delhi is concerned. The fault lies in Article 239-AA itself, an incomplete and unworkable division of powers and responsibilities that gives Delhi a lot of government, but little governance.

The Valmiki Ramayana tells the tale of Trishanku, a king who wished to ascend heaven in his mortal form, but finds himself thwarted at every turn. Eventually, he approaches the rishi Viswamitra who, having a grudge of his own with the gods, accedes to his request and, using the power of his penance alone, begins to raise Trishanku to the heavens. Alarmed by this, Indra uses his powers to stall Trishanku’s ascent, getting into a cosmic tug of war with Viswamitra. In some versions of the tale, the tug of war results in a stalemate with the hapless Trishanku suspended upside down between heaven and earth, begging everyone concerned to end his misery.

The story of Trishanku almost perfectly describes the state of affairs in Delhi’s governance. Delhi is not a state in the constitutional sense, nor is it purely a union territory. It has an elected legislature, a chief minister, and a council of ministers, but is also governed by the Union Parliament and executive, which enjoy concurrent powers over all matters in the state and concurrent lists as far as Delhi is concerned. The lieutenant governor, consequently, is much more powerful than the governor of any other state under the Constitution, but cannot also function purely like the administrator of a union territory.

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Updated On : 23rd Mar, 2021

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