Delhi services bill: Amendments and impact on the capital | Explained

- August 9, 2023
| By : Mohd Shehwaaz Khan |

The Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (Amendment) Bill has sparked a debate over the balance of power and governance in the capital

Sanjay Singh (left), Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal (centre) along with Communist Party of India (CPI) leader Sitaram Yechury.

On August 7, 2023, Rajya Sabha passed the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (Amendment) Bill. The bill was cleared by the Lok Sabha on August 3, 2023.

The new amendments took away the services from the jurisdiction of the Delhi government which were earlier restored to it by the Supreme Court in a landmark decision on May 11, 2023.

According to the Centre, the said Bill is for the “maintenance of democratic and administrative balance in the governance” of the NCT of Delhi. But many experts have questioned its constitutionality and how it is going to impact bureaucracy. 

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, called the passage of the Bill, a “Black day” in the history of democratic India comparing it to the ‘Government of India Act, 1935’. 

Here is an explainer:

What is the Services Bill?

The Bill aims to establish a permanent authority named “National Capital Civil Service Authority” to take decisions regarding the postings and control of civil servants. This authority will include the Chief Secretary of Delhi, the Principal Home Secretary of Delhi and the Delhi Chief Minister.

Moreover, the Lieutenant Governor will be empowered to exercise his sole discretion on various matters, which will include the National Capital Civil Services Authority’s recommendations and the prorogation, summoning, and dissolution of the Delhi Legislative Assembly.

The Bill seeks to confer the final authority on the LG. In case of any difference of opinion, the LG’s decision will prevail.

How will the new bill impact the functioning of the Delhi government?

Calling it a “Glaring lapse” PDT Achary, former Secretary General of Lok Sabha told Patriot, “The question is whether the bill passed by the parliament is under sub-clause (a) of clause (3) of 239AA [Which gives power to the Union to make any law for the Union Territories]  or under sub-clause 7 of article 239 AA.”

Article 239AA states, “The National Capital Territory of Delhi has legislative and executive power over administrative services in the National Capital, excluding matters relating to public order, police and land.”

Achary added, “The bill is clearly an amendment to the GNCT act, which means it is supplemental to provisions to Article 239 AA. And a supplemental law cannot counter the provisions of Article 239 AA. Therefore, this law is unconstitutional.” 

He further added that taking “Services” outside the purview of the legislative assembly breaks the triple chain of accountability which links the civil services, ministers, the legislature and citizens. This violates the principle of parliamentary democracy — a part of the basic structure doctrine. 

On the issue of functioning and control over bureaucracy, senior Supreme Court lawyer, Sanjay Hegde said the new bill effectively hampers the “constitutional architecture”. 

“If they (Delhi Government) have no control over the executive. If they can’t direct them or transfer them, why would the executive be obligated to listen to the Delhi government,” he told Patriot

“The previous judgement by Supreme Court (May 11) clearly said personnel or services are under the Delhi government. The parliament has simply amended the Article 239AA and not brought a constitutional amendment. Thus, it’s unconstitutional,” Hegde added. 

What does the opposition say?

Calling it “completely unconstitutional” senior Congress MP Abhishek Manu Singhvi said, “It is fundamentally anti-democratic. It is a frontal assault on the regional voice and the regional aspirations of the people of Delhi.”

Aam Aadmi Party’s Raghav Chadda said that the BJP government wants to rule over people of Delhi through proxy as it could not win the Delhi assembly election in the last 25 years.

Union Home Minister Amit Shah responded to the bill’s debate, emphasising that its purpose is not to “grab power” but rather to prevent the Delhi government from “encroaching on Centre’s powers”.

“We have not brought this Bill to grab power for the Centre. The Delhi government is trying to encroach on the Centre’s powers and the Bill has been brought to legally stop them from doing so,” Shah said.