India's Parliament approves Delhi ordinance bill to empower Modi government in capital

This will transfer oversight of city bureaucrats from local to central government, amid opposition claims of duplicity

Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrives at the Parliament House in New Delhi. He is set to have greater control over India's capital.  EPA
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India's lower house of Parliament has passed a bill giving Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government greater control over the administration of Delhi.

This overrides a Supreme Court ruling that had upheld the powers of the local government.

Delhi, which contains the capital New Delhi, is located in the National Capital Territory. This has been governed by the opposition Aam Aadmi Party since 2015.

Local government controls services such as electricity, education and public works, while central government, led by Mr Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party since 2014, controls law enforcement and land management.

The bill passed on Thursday will transfer control over the transfers and postings, vigilance and disciplinary proceedings for all bureaucrats in the NCT from the local government to the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi, a representative of central government.

It now needs to be passed by the upper house of Parliament, which is expected to take it up on Monday, before it is signed into law by President Droupadi Murmu.

The Lok Sabha, the lower house of Parliament where the BJP has a majority, passed the bill after four hours of debate, overriding a Supreme Court ruling in May that upheld the local government's control over Delhi bureaucrats.

The AAP, led by Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, has fought for complete control over the city including law and order, which are currently under the Ministry of Home Affairs in central government.

“Services have always been with the central government,” Home Affairs Minister Amit Shah told Parliament on Thursday.

“From 1993 to 2015, no chief minister fought. There were no fights because whichever government was formed, their aim was to serve the people.”

But Mr Kejriwal accused Mr Modi of going back on his election promises regarding the administration of Delhi.

“BJP has promised time and again to grant full statehood to Delhi,” Mr Kejriwal said after the Lok Sabha vote.

"In 2014, Modi had said he will accord complete statehood to Delhi on becoming prime minister. Today, these people stabbed Delhi in the back. Don't trust Modi’s words in the future.”

A five-judge constitution bench of the Supreme Court headed by Chief Justice of India Dhananjay Chandrachud had in May ruled that the Delhi government should have control over bureaucrats in the administration of services, except in areas of public order, police and land.

“If a democratically elected government is not provided with the power to control the officers, then the principle underlying the triple-chain of collective responsibility would become redundant,” the bench said.

Mr Modi's government sought a review of the judgment, arguing that Delhi was a union territory – an administrative division directly under control of the central government.

If the bill is also passed in the upper house, AAP can challenge it in court.

Updated: August 04, 2023, 11:55 AM