Daily Current Affairs 23.03.2021 (Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (Amendment) Bill (GNCTD), One District One Product Scheme)

Daily Current Affairs 23.03.2021 (Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (Amendment) Bill (GNCTD), One District One Product Scheme)


1. Amid protests, LS passes GNCTD amendment Bill

It defines that the word ‘government’ in Delhi means L-G

The Lok Sabha on Monday passed a Bill that defines that the word “government” in Delhi means the Lieutenant-Governor (L-G) and makes it mandatory for the elected government in the national capital territory to take the opinion of the L-G before any executive action.

Amid strong protests from Opposition parties, including the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), the Bill was passed by a voice vote.

While Union Minister of State for Home G. Kishan Reddy said the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (Amendment) Bill (GNCTD), 2021, was necessary to remove ambiguities and make governance in Delhi more accountable and efficient, the Oppositions members accused the Narendra Modi government of ‘usurping’ the power of the elected government in the national capital and trying to rule Delhi through the Lieutenant-Governor by making his office a ‘super Chief Minister’.

‘Poor loser’

The lone AAP member of Parliament from Punjab, Bhagwant Mann, accused the BJP of being a ‘poor loser’ and alleged that the Centre had become a specialist in taking away rights of the States.

Echoing other Opposition members, Mr. Mann also wondered why Assembly elections in Delhi should be held if all the powers were to be given to the L-G. He also asked if the Centre plans to turn the national capital into a Union Territory like Jammu and Kashmir where there is an Assembly but is non-functional.

Initiating the debate, Congress MP Manish Tewari said the legislation was ‘unconstitutional and mala fide’ that sought to take away the representative character of Delhi’s government.

GovernorLt. Governor
Governor is appointed under Article 153. As per Article 239, every UT in India shall be administered by the President, through an administrator to be appointed by him. It is called Lieutenant Governor in Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Puducherry and Delhi. 
Governor is constitutional head of the states.Lt. Governor is an administrator and not a constitutional head.
Article 153- 167 of Indian constitution deals with state executive (Gov + CM + Council of Ministers + Advocate general of the states).Article 239 to 241 deal with UTs
States have their own government.UTs are directly governed by Union.
Governors works as per the advice of the Council of ministers.In this regard, the Supreme court in 2017 said that Lt. Governor of Delhi has more power than Governor of any state. He doesn’t have to listen to the Council of Ministers.

Comparison between powers of Lt Governor of Delhi and Puducherry

The powers of the LG of Puducherry are different from the ones of the LG of Delhi, the other UT that has an elected legislature and government. 

  • The LG of Delhi Executive powers: LG of Delhi has “Executive Functions” that allow him to exercise his powers in matters connected to public order, police and land “in consultation with the Chief Minister, if it is so provided under any order issued by the President under Article 239 of the Constitution
  • LG of Delhi enjoys greater powers than the LG of Puducherry.
  • LG of Delhi is guided by NCT act 1991:  LG of Delhi is also guided by the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi Act, 1991, and the Transaction of Business of the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi Rules, 1993
  • The LG of Puducherry guided by UT act 1963: The LG of Puducherry is guided mostly by the Government of Union Territories Act, 1963.
  • LG of Delhi: Articles 239 and 239AA of the Constitution, as well as the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi Act, 1991, clearly underline that Delhi is a UT, where the Centre, whose eyes and ears are the LG, has a much more prominent role than in Puducherry.
  • Legislative Assembly of Puducherry: The Government of Union Territories Act, 1963 provides for a Legislative Assembly of Pondicherry (as Puducherry was then called), with a Council of Ministers to govern the “Union Territory of Pondicherry”.
  • The same Act says that the UT will be administered by the President of India through an Administrator (LG).
  • At the same time, Section 18 of the Act, which deals with “Extent of legislative power” of the Assembly, says that MLAs “may make laws for the whole or any part of the Union Territory with respect to any of the matters enumerated in the State List or the Concurrent List”.
  • And Section 44 of the Act, which deals with the Council of Ministers and its working, says the Council of Ministers headed by a Chief Minister will “aid and advise the Administrator in the exercise of his functions in relation to matters with respect to which the Legislative Assembly of the Union Territory has power to make laws”. 
  • The same clause also allows the LG to “act in his discretion” in the matter of lawmaking, even though the Council of Ministers has the task of aiding and advising him.
  • In case of a difference of opinion between the LG and his Ministers on any matter, the Administrator is bound to refer it to the President for a decision and act according to the decision given by the President. 
  • However, the Administrator can also claim that the matter is urgent, and take immediate action as he deems necessary.
  • Under Section 22 of the Act, prior sanction of the Administrator is required for certain legislative proposals. 
  • These include Bills or amendments that the Council of Ministers intends to move in the Legislative Assembly, and which deal with the “constitution and organisation of the court of the Judicial Commissioner”, and “jurisdiction and powers of the court of the Judicial Commissioner with respect to any of the matters in the State List or the Concurrent List”.
  • Section 23 of the Act also makes it obligatory on the part of the UT government to seek the “recommendation” of the LG before moving a Bill or an amendment to provide for “the imposition, abolition, remission, alteration or regulation of any tax”, “the amendment of the law with respect to any financial obligations undertaken or to be undertaken”, and anything that has to do with the Consolidated Fund of the UT. 
  • Once the Assembly has passed a Bill, the LG can either grant or withhold his assent; or reserve it for the consideration of the President.
  • He can also send it back to the Assembly for reconsideration.
  • The manner in which the LG functions vis-à-vis the elected government (Council of Ministers) is also spelt out in the Rules of Business of the Government of Pondicherry, 1963, issued on June 22, 1963.
  • Under Rule 47, which deals with persons serving in the UT government, the Administrator exercises powers regulating the conditions of service of such persons in consultation with the Chief Minister.
  • In case the LG has a difference of opinion with the Chief Minister, he can refer the matter to the central government for the decision of the President.
  • Power of Delhi Assembly: Under the constitutional scheme, the Delhi Assembly has the power to legislate on all subjects except law and order and land. 
  • Power of Puducherry Assembly: However, the Puducherry Assembly can legislate on any issue under the Concurrent and State Lists. 
  • However, if the law is in conflict with a law passed by Parliament, the law passed by Parliament prevails.

2. Centre readies draft plan for district-wise export promotion

Government eyes double-digit export growth in 500 districts in 3-5 years

The government has readied a draft district-wise export promotion plan for 451 districts in the country after identifying products and services with export potential in 725 districts, Commerce Secretary Anoop Wadhawan said on Monday.

Aiming for double-digit export growth from 500 districts over 3-5 years, the Commerce Ministry has asked States to prepare an annual ‘export ranking index’ of districts on export competitiveness with the assistance of the Directorate General of Foreign Trade (DGFT).

While foreign trade constitutes 45% of India’s GDP, most export promotion efforts are driven by the Centre.

The district-specific approach that perforce involves the States in identifying potential export sectors and the logistics bottlenecks to be fixed was taken up after Prime Minister Narendra Modi pushed for each district to aim to be an export hub during his Independence Day address in 2019.

In the initial phase, products and services with export potential in each district have been identified and an institutional mechanism of State and District Export Promotion Committees (SEPC) are being created, with an action plan to grow exports from each district.

Draft District Export Action Plans have been prepared by regional DGFT authorities in 451 districts.

“Products/services with export potential have been identified in 725 districts across the country (including Agricultural & Toy clusters and GI products in these Districts),” the Ministry said.

“District Export Promotion Committees have been notified in the districts of all the States except West Bengal,” it added.

 One District One Product Scheme (ODOP):

  • Aim: To identify one product per district based on the potential and strength of a district and national priorities. A cluster for that product will be developed in the district and market linkage will be provided for that.
  • Significance: This initiative is seen as a transformational step towards realizing the true potential of a district. It will fuel economic growth and generate employment and rural entrepreneurship.

Merging of ODOP One District One Product with Districts as Exports Hub initiative:

  • The ODOP One District One Product initiative has been operationally merged with the ‘Districts as Export Hub’ initiative. Later is implemented by the Director-General of Foreign Trade (DGFT), Department of Commerce.
  • Objective: To convert each District of the country into an Export Hub by identifying products with export potential. It also aims to address bottlenecks in exporting products and support local manufacturers.
  • Under the initiative, the State Export Promotion Committee (SPEC) and District Export Promotion Committee (DEPC) have been constituted in several districts.

3. China, Russia look to deepen ‘best’ ties

Lavrov says the West seeks to dominate global economy and politics and impose its will on others

Russia’s relations with China were currently at “the best in their entire history”, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said as he began a key visit to China on Monday.

The visit comes shortly after the March 19 China-U.S. dialogue in Alaska and follows the first leaders’ summit of the Quad — India, Australia, Japan and the U.S. — held virtually on March 12.

Mr. Lavrov said in an interview with Chinese State media, ahead of his talks with his counterpart Wang Yi, that “the international situation is undergoing profound changes, with new centres of economic, financial and political influence growing stronger”.

“However, these objective developments, which are leading to the formation of a truly multipolar and democratic world, are unfortunately being hindered by Western countries, particularly the United States,” he said, adding that “they seek to continue to dominate at any cost on global economy and politics and impose their will and requirements on others”.

“In response, Russia and China are promoting a constructive and unifying agenda and hope that the international governance system would be fair and democratic, run smoothly and be based on extensive interaction between countries and their integration initiatives,” the official Xinhua news agency quoted him as saying, adding that the “mutually trusting and respectful dialogue should serve as an example to other countries”.

‘Best in history’

“Current Russia-China relations are assessed both by our national leaders and citizens as the best in their entire history,” he said. “This is a well-deserved and fair assessment.” This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Treaty of Good-neighbourliness and Friendly Cooperation signed in July 2001, which Mr. Lavrov credited for deepening strategic relations and creating “a model of interaction between Russia and China that is absolutely free from any ideological constraints… of an intrinsic nature, not subject to any opportunistic factors nor against any third country.”

Both countries are expected to discuss deepening coordination against the threat of sanctions from the West. Only on Monday, the EU imposed sanctions on four Chinese officials for human rights violations in Xinjiang, the first sanctions since the 1989 arms embargo. Mr. Lavrov called on both countries — permanent members of the UN Security Council — to work “under the UN framework on the immediate end to unilateral coercive measures” and to “take the opportunity to enhance their scientific and technological innovation and improve their national strength in response to the sanctions”.

Trade ties are also on the agenda, with bilateral trade last year reaching $107 billion. China is Russia’s biggest trade partner.

Li Yonghui, a Russia expert at the official Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, wrote in an article on Monday in the Communist Party-run Global Times that the China-Russia relationship could “counterbalance” the Quad.

“Russia should not be ignored regarding its capabilities to offset the influence of Quad,” the commentary said, noting in particular Russia’s continuing close relations with India as a potential “destabilising factor” for the Quad’s potential. “India will not destroy its relations with Russia just because it wants to seek courtship with the U.S. to deal with China,” it said. “From this perspective, if Russia-India relations continue in a stable way, they will to some extent restrain India-US ties from further deepening.”

Strategic triangle

Ms. Li, in the commentary, noted that “as early as December 1998, then Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov expressed hope that Russia, China and India could establish a ‘strategic triangle’ that would be in the interests of peace and security”.

“Currently, though China and India have undergone twists and turns in their relations due to border tensions, Russia still hopes that Beijing and New Delhi won’t engage in bigger problems,” she said. “Russia has actually played an active role between China and India. In other words, Russia has maintained relatively close ties with India, which has thereupon become a counterbalance to the so-called Quad group of the US, Japan, India and Australia.”

4. U.P., M.P. sign agreement on Ken-Betwa interlinking work

Deal comes amid protests over submerging of sanctuary

The governments of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh have signed an agreement that nudges forward a long-stalled multi-crore, controversial project to link the Ken and the Betwa rivers and irrigate the water-deficient Bundelkhand region, spread over both States, and provide electricity.

Several obstacles have dogged the project. For one, the project will partly submerge the Panna Tiger Reserve in M.P. and affect the habitat of vultures and jackals. After years of protests, however, it was finally cleared by the apex wildlife regulator, the National Board for Wildlife, in 2016.

Monsoon blues

Then, the States were unable to come to an agreemment on how water would be shared, particularly in the non-monsoon months.

The project involves transferring surplus water from the Ken river in Madhya Pradesh to the Betwa in Uttar Pradesh and irrigating 3.64 lakh hectares in the Bundelkhand region of both States. The project involves building a 77-metre-tall and a 2-km-wide Dhaudhan dam and a 230-km canal.

The original project was conceived in two distinct phases but now they are learnt to be combined. This influences how the entire scheme is funded. The Centre was originally to fund 90% of the cost (₹37,611 crore in 2018) but a final decision is still outstanding.

However U.P., it is learnt, wanted a greater share of the water which Madhya Pradesh was unwilling. This prevented the signing of an agreement on water sharing that was ready in 2018.

On Monday, the agreement was signed by both Chief Ministers in an event that Prime Minister Narendra Modi, attended online. “This is a historic moment that is much more than the mere signing on paper,” he said in his address.

Inter-State River Water Sharing Disputes

  • The Inter-State River Water Disputes are one of the most contentious issues in the Indian federalism today.
  • The recent cases of the Cauvery Water Dispute and the Satluj Yamuna Link Canal are some examples.
  • Various Inter-State Water Disputes Tribunals have been constituted so far, but they had their own problems.

Constitutional Provisions

  • Entry 17 of State List deals with water i.e. water supply, irrigation, canal, drainage, embankments, water storage and water power.
  • Entry 56 of Union List empowers the Union Government for the regulation and development of inter-state rivers and river valleys to the extent declared by Parliament to be expedient in the public interest.
  • According to Article 262, in case of disputes relating to waters:
    • Parliament may by law provide for the adjudication of any dispute or complaint with respect to the use, distribution or control of the waters of, or in, any inter-State river or river valley.
    • Parliament may, by law provide that neither the Supreme Court nor any other court shall exercise jurisdiction in respect of any such dispute or complaint as mentioned above.
Major Inter-State River Disputes
River (s)States
Ravi and BeasPunjab, Haryana, Rajasthan
NarmadaMadhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Rajasthan
KrishnaMaharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Telangana
VamsadharaAndhra Pradesh & Odisha
CauveryKerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Puducherry
GodavariMaharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha
MahanadiChhattisgarh, Odisha
MahadayiGoa, Maharashtra, Karnataka
PeriyarTamil Nadu, Kerala

Mechanism for Inter-State River Water Disputes Resolution

  • The resolution of water dispute is governed by the Inter-State River Water Disputes Act, 1956.
    • According to its provisions, if a State Government makes a request regarding any water dispute and the Central Government is of opinion that the water dispute cannot be settled by negotiations, then a Water Disputes Tribunal is constituted for the adjudication of the water dispute.
  • The act was amended in 2002, to include the major recommendations of the Sarkaria Commission.
    • The amendments mandated a one year time frame to setup the water disputes tribunal and also a 3 year time frame to give a decision.

Active River Water Dispute Tribunals in India

  • Krishna Water Disputes Tribunal II (2004) – Karnataka, Telangana, Andra Pradesh, Maharashtra
  • Mahanadi Water Disputes Tribunal (2018) – Odisha & Chattisgarh
  • Mahadayi Water Disputes Tribunal (2010) – Goa, Karnataka, Maharashtra
  • Ravi & Beas Water Tribunal (1986) – Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan
  • Vansadhara Water Disputes Tribunal (2010) – Andra Pradesh & Odisha.

Issues with Interstate Water Dispute Tribunals

  • Protracted proceedings and extreme delays in dispute resolution.
    • For example, in the case of Godavari water dispute, the request was made in 1962, but the tribunal was constituted in 1968 and the award was given in 1979 which was published in the Gazette in 1980.
    • The Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal, constituted in 1990, gave its final award in 2007.
  • Opacity in the institutional framework and guidelines that define these proceedings; and ensuring compliance.
  • Though award is final and beyond the jurisdiction of Courts, either States can approach Supreme Court under Article 136 (Special Leave Petition) under Article 32 linking issue with the violation of Article 21 (Right to Life).
  • The composition of the tribunal is not multidisciplinary and it consists of persons only from the judiciary.
  • The absence of authoritative water data that is acceptable to all parties currently makes it difficult to even set up a baseline for adjudication.
  • The shift in tribunals’ approach, from deliberative to adversarial, aids extended litigation and politicisation of water-sharing disputes.
  • The growing nexus between water and politics have transformed the disputes into turfs of vote bank politics.
    • This politicisation has also led to increasing defiance by states, extended litigations and subversion of resolution mechanisms.
    • For example, the Punjab government played truant in the case of the Ravi-Beas tribunal.
  • Too much discretion at too many stages of the process.
    • Partly because of procedural complexities involving multiple stakeholders across governments and agencies.
    • India’s complicated federal polity and its colonial legacy.
The Inter-State River Water Disputes (Amendment) Bill, 2017 In order to further streamline the adjudication of inter-State river water disputes, the Inter-State River Water Disputes (Amendment) Bill, 2017 was introduced in Lok Sabha in March 2017 by amending the existing ISRWD Act, 1956.The Bill envisages to constitute a standalone Tribunal with permanent establishment and permanent office space and infrastructure so as to obviate the need to set up a separate Tribunal for each water dispute which is invariably a time consuming process.In the proposed Bill, there is a provision for establishment of a Dispute Resolution Committee (DRC) by the Central Government for resolving amicably, the inter-State water disputes within a maximum period of one year and six months.Any dispute, which cannot be settled by negotiations shall be referred to the Tribunal for its adjudication.The dispute so referred to the Tribunal shall be assigned by the Chairperson of the Tribunal to a Bench of the Tribunal for adjudication.Under the Bill, the requirement of publication of the final decision of tribunal in the official gazette has been removed.The Bill adds that the decision of the bench of the tribunal will be final and binding on the parties involved in the disputeThe Bill also calls for the transparent data collection system at the national level for each river basin and a single agency to maintain data bank and information system.The proposed amendments in the Bill will speed up the adjudication of water disputes referred to it.The Bill was referred to Parliamentary Standing Committee on Water Resources for examination.The Standing Committee has submitted its recommendation on the Bill, accordingly, the Ministry has prepared draft Cabinet Note for Official Amendments to Inter-State River Water Disputes (Amendment) Bill, 2017.

5. Why stop at quota, asks SC judge

Affirmative action not just reservation, he says while hearing 50% ceiling limit case

Justice Ravindra Bhat, one of the judges on the Constitution Bench hearing the question of 50% ceiling limit on reservation, asked why welfare should be dependent on caste quota benefits alone.

“Why stop at reservation? Why can’t other things also be done? Why not promote education, establish more institutes? Somewhere this matrix has to move beyond reservation. Affirmative action is not just reservation. There has to be something more,” Justice Bhat, part of the Bench led by Justice Ashok Bhushan, asked.

The court was hearing submissions by senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for Jharkhand, on the circumstances which led to the 50% limit in the Indira Sawhney judgment of 1992.

‘Balancing act’

Mr. Sibal said the 1992 judgment was “a balancing act” done during a tumultuous time in the nation.

On March 8, the Bench had framed several questions of law, including whether the Indira Sawhney verdict needed to be re-looked by a larger Bench of more than nine judges.

SEBC Act examined

The court is primarily examining whether the Maharashtra State Reservation for Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBC) Act of 2018, which provides 12% to 13% quota benefits for the Maratha community, and thus, taking the reservation percentage in the State across the 50% mark, was enacted under “extraordinary circumstances”.

Over the years, several States like Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu have crossed the Rubicon and passed laws which allow reservation to over 60%.

Mandal Commission

The Mandal Commission, officially known as the Socially and Educationally Backward Classes Commission (SEBC), was set up on 1st January 1979 by the Indian Government under the then Prime Minister Morarji Desai. The Commission was chaired by an MP, B P Mandal. The chief mandate of the Mandal Commission was to identify the socially or educationally backward classes of India and to consider reservations as a means to address caste inequality and discrimination. The Commission submitted its report to the President on 31st December 1980.

The commission developed 11 criteria to identify the backward classes who were called “Other Backward Classes” or OBCs. The criteria are classified as social, economic and educational.

Social Indicators

  1. Castes or classes considered socially backward by others.
  2. Castes or classes that relied on manual labour for their livelihood.
  3. Castes or classes where:
  1. At least 10% males and 25% females more than the state average got married below the age of 17 years in rural areas
  2. At least 5% males and 10% of females more than the state average got married below the age of 17 years in urban areas
  3. Castes/classes where participation of women in work is at least 25% more than the state average.

Educational Indicators

  1. Castes or classes where the number of children between the ages of 5 and 15 who never attended school is at least 25% more than the state average.
  2. Castes or classes when the rate of student dropout between the ages of 5 and 15 is at least 25% more than the state average.
  3. Castes or classes amongst whom the proportion of matriculates is at least 25% less than the state average.

Economic Indicators

  1. Castes or classes where the average value of family assets is at least 25% less than the state average.
  2. Castes or classes where the number of families living in kutcha houses is at least 25% more than the state average.
  3. Castes or classes where the number of households having taken consumption loans is at least 25% more than the state average.

All the indicators were given different weightage points. The social indicators were given 3 points each, educational indicators were given 2 points each and the economic indicators were given 1 point each. The 11 indicators were applied to all castes covered by the survey in a state. All castes which had a score of 11 points were declared as socially and educationally backwards.

Mandal Commission recommendations

The Commission reported that 52% of the country’s population was comprised of OBCs. initially, the commission argued that the percentage of reservation in government service should match this percentage. However, this would have gone against an earlier Supreme Court ruling which had laid down the extent of the reservation to under 50%. There was already a 22.5% reservation for SCs and STs. Therefore, the figure of reservation for OBCs was capped at 27% which when added to the already existing reservation would be below the 50% mark. The Commission also identified backward classes among non-Hindus.

The recommendations are briefly mentioned below:

  1. Reservation of 27% public sector and government jobs for OBCs for those who do not qualify on merit.
  2. Reservation of 27% for promotions at all levels for OBCs in public service.
  3. The reserved quota, if unfilled, should be carried forward for a period of 3 years and deserved after that.
  4. Age relaxation for OBCs to be the same as that for SCs and STs.
  5. A roster system should be prepared for the backward classes on the pattern of that for the SCs and STs.
  6. Reservations to be made in PSUs, banks, private sector undertakings receiving government grants, colleges and universities.
  7. The government to make the necessary legal provisions to implement these recommendations.

Mandal Commission Impact

In 1990, the then Prime Minister V P Singh announced in the Parliament that the recommendations of the Mandal Commission would be implemented. Violent protests ensued in northern and western India. Many students immolated themselves in protest and a few of them died as well.

The southern states’ reaction to the Commission’s recommendations were much milder since there was already reservation touching 50% in those states, and hence, they were more agreeable to those recommendations. Also, according to Ramachandra Guha, the percentage of upper castes in those regions was less than 10% while in northern India, it was above 20%. Additionally, the youth in the southern states were not as heavily dependent on government employment because of a better industrial sector there.

In 1992, the SC upheld the 27% reservation for OBCs but also stated that the only caste was not an indicator of social and educational backwardness. It said that the ‘creamy layer’ among the OBCs should not be the beneficiaries of the reservations.

When PM Narasimha Rao announced his intention to implement the recommendations in 1993, there was not much resistance by the people.

6. Editorial-1: Delhi’s administration as the tail wagging the dog

The Government of NCT of Delhi (Amendment) Bill, 2021 will reduce the elected government to a mere vestigial organ

A courtier once said about Charles II, “We have a pretty witty king, Whose word no man relies on. He never said a foolish thing, And never did a wise one.” Charles supposedly replied, “The wise words are my own, the deeds are my ministers.” Thus was seeded the system of the cabinet form of government, which eventually flowered in England and left its imprimatur over constitutional structures throughout the world. India has no monarchs but a President and Governors, in whose name, the government is run. They can do almost nothing by themselves, without the aid and advice of their cabinet of Ministers. However, the Lieutenant Governor (LG) of Delhi, will likely be an exception soon.

Parliamentary democracy, with a cabinet form of government, is part of the basic structure of the Indian Constitution. Its first article reads, “India that is Bharat, shall be a Union of States.” When the Constitution came into force, there were four kinds of States, called Parts A,B, C and D States, with the last two being administered by centrally appointed Chief Commissioners and Lieutenant Governors, with no locally elected Assemblies to aid and advise them.

Governing Delhi

Delhi as the National Capital, belonged to the nation as a whole. It was felt that if Delhi became a part of any constituent State of the Union, that State would sooner or later acquire a predominant position in relation to other States. Second, the need for keeping the National Capital under the control of the Union Government was deemed to be vital in the national interest. It was felt that if Delhi became a full State, the administration of the National Capital would be divided into rigid compartments of the State field and Union field. Conflicts would likely arise in vital matters, particularly if the two governments were run by different political parties.

Hence, Delhi was initially made a Part C State. Its population then was around 14 lakh people. In 1951, a Legislative Assembly was created with an elected Chief Minister. Chaudhary Brahm Prakash became the first Chief Minister in 1952. However, a prolonged stand-off with the Chief Commissioner, and later the Union Home Minister, Govind Ballabh Pant, over issues of jurisdictions and functional autonomy, eventually led to his resignation, in 1955. In 1956, when the Constitution of India was amended to implement the provisions of the States Reorganisation Act, only two categories, namely, States and Union Territories remained in the Indian Union. Delhi then became a Union Territory to be administered by an Administrator appointed by the President. The Legislative Assembly of Delhi and the Council stood abolished, despite loud protests in Parliament. Ten years later, the Delhi Administration Act, 1966 provided for a limited representative Government in Delhi through a Metropolitan Council comprising 56 elected Members and five nominated Members. This structure continued for many years, with repeated political demands for full statehood to be granted to Delhi.

In 1987, the Balakrishnan Committee was set up to submit its recommendations with regard to the status to be conferred on Delhi. In 1989, the Committee recommended that Delhi should continue to be a Union Territory but that there must be a Legislative Assembly and Council of Ministers responsible to the said Assembly with appropriate powers; and to ensure stability, appropriate constitutional measures should be taken to confer the National Capital a special status. Based on this report, the Constitution (69th) Amendment Act and the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (GNCT) Act, 1991 were passed. They roughly restored the kind of governance system that was offered to Delhi in 1952: a Union Territory with a Legislative Assembly, a Council of Ministers and an elected Chief Minister. This limited reincarnation has continued to hold the field to date, despite several efforts to progress to full or near-statehood.

Politics and questions

Between 1991 to date, there have been various instances when the Delhi Assembly has been won by a party other than the ruling party at the Centre. In an era of mixed but slim mandates, the Delhi government and the Union Government have differed, but more often than not found a modus vivendi . But the Lok Sabha elections of 2014 and 2019 and the Delhi Assembly elections of 2015 and 2020, have resulted in huge mandates to personality-led governments, from different parties that are seemingly locked in mortal combat with each other.

The ensuing fights lead to constitutional questions on Delhi’s peculiar government structure being litigated up to the Supreme Court. A Bench in 2018 ruled that “…Parliament envisaged a representative form of Government for the NCT of Delhi. The said provision intends to provide for the Capital a directly elected Legislative Assembly which shall have legislative powers over matters falling within the State List and the Concurrent List, barring those excepted, and a mandate upon the Lieutenant Governor to act on the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers except when he decides to refer the matter to the President for final decision”. The Court further ruled that “… The Constitution has mandated a federal balance wherein independence of a certain required degree is assured to the State Governments. As opposed to centralism, a balanced federal structure mandates that the Union does not usurp all powers and the States enjoy freedom without any unsolicited interference from the Central Government with respect to matters which exclusively fall within their domain.”

The remaining issues of governance, especially in the matter of control over Delhi government servants, was remitted to two judges of the Court for further adjudication. In 2019, there was a difference of opinion recorded in separate judgments by the two judges and the matter awaits hearing before a larger Bench.

The consequences

It is against this convoluted historical and legal background that we must assess the Central government’s justification that “In order to give effect to the interpretation made by Hon’ble Supreme Court in the aforesaid judgments, a Bill, namely, the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (Amendment) Bill, 2021 seeks, inter alia, to clarify the expression ‘Government’, ….consistent with the status of Delhi as a Union territory to address the ambiguities in the interpretation of the legislative provisions.”

The Bill effectively reduces the elected government to a mere vestigial organ and elevates the centrally appointed LG, to the position of a Viceroy with plenipotentiary powers. Simply put, the elected government in Delhi can do nothing, if the LG does not permit them to so do. It provides that, “The expression ‘Government’ referred to in any law to be made by the Legislative Assembly shall mean the Lieutenant Governor.” It further provides that “…before taking any executive action in pursuance of the decision of the Council of Ministers or a Minister, to exercise powers of Government, …under any law in force in the Capital, the opinion of Lieutenant Governor …shall be obtained on all such matters as may be specified, by a general or special order, by Lieutenant Governor.”

If the Bill is passed by both Houses of Parliament, as it seems so, it will be a case of the unelected tail wagging the elected dog. The population of Delhi which counts among the highest in the world, will have an unrepresentative administration. It will be ruled by an appointed LG, who can only be changed if the rest of the country, decides to change the Central government. There can be no recourse to the ballot box to hold to account an unelected, centrally appointed government functionary. It is quite likely that the amendment act will end up being challenged in the constitutional courts. The Supreme Court has already cautioned — “Interpretation cannot ignore the conscience of the Constitution. That apart, when we take a broader view, we are also alive to the consequence of such an interpretation. If the expressions in case of difference and on any matter are construed to mean that the Lieutenant Governor can differ on any proposal, the expectation of the people which has its legitimacy in a democratic set-up, although different from States as understood under the Constitution, will lose its purpose in simple semantics.”

Will Parliamentarians heed the Court’s caution, or like Charles II, will they never say “a foolish thing and never do a wise one”?

7. Editorial-2: Getting it right on the LAC disengagement

India’s negotiators ought to be commended for their efforts in ensuring a successful border disengagement at Pangong

In the aftermath of the India-China agreement reached on February 10 for pullback in the Pangong Lake area, there has been much speculation about the gain and loss for India. Some have averred that the mutual withdrawal amounts to the creation of a “buffer zone on Indian territory”. Others have alleged it to be a “surrender of Indian territory”. Yet others have questioned the withdrawal of India’s presence along the Kailash range on the South Bank of Pangong since it enabled India to dominate the Chinese garrison at Moldo.

Things are moving

Another charge has been levelled — of inadequate budgetary allocation for defence in the face of a “two front war”. The fact of the matter is that the increase in the outlay for capital procurement announced by the Finance Minister on February 1 for FY 2021-22 represents a 18.75% jump over the previous financial year, the highest in 15 years. Moreover, the government has enhanced the delegated financial powers up to ₹200 crore in senior ranks below the rank of vice chief as well, to facilitate procurement. Improved procedures and oversight have ensured better utilisation with no surrendering of funds over the last four years.

The charge that India is not according proper priority to national security is baseless. Military modernisation, indigenisation and defence exports are top priorities. The building of long overdue roads, bridges, culverts and other infrastructure in the border areas, in mission mode, has spurred mobility and capacity for a rapid induction of forces. The Darbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldi (DSDBO) Road has facilitated seamless access all the way up to Sub-Sector North (SSN) which abuts the Karakoram Pass and the Siachen Glacier. It has provided an axis for developing lateral roads towards India’s frontline in Eastern Ladakh. Another example is the eponymous Atal Rohtang Tunnel, approved by the government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The Tunnel, inaugurated in October 2020, makes for a much shorter logistics loop connecting the Middle and Western Sectors of the India-China boundary on the Indian side.

Many defence reforms recommended by the Naresh Chandra Committee have been implemented in recent years. The creation of the Department of Military Affairs (DMA), the appointment of the Chief of Defence Staff, and, the soon-to-be-a-reality Theatre Commands, are but a few examples.

The buffer zone stands

India has not surrendered any land in Galwan, Pangong or Depsang since the border crisis broke out in April/May 2020. The assumption that the disengagement implemented at Pangong, especially that the temporary moratorium on patrolling by both sides will result in a buffer zone entirely “in our area”, is incorrect. India has neither accepted the unilateral definition of China’s so-called Line of Actual Control (LAC) of 1959 nor its subsequent mutants. As such, a buffer zone on the other side of any so-called Chinese LAC is still a buffer zone on India’s side, given that India regards the whole of Aksai Chin as an integral part of its territory. By using the benchmark of the so-called Chinese LAC to identify India’s territory and China’s, the naysayers are actually legitimising the illegal Chinese presence across the LAC.

During the late 1950s and early 1960s, the idea of a mutual pullback by 20 kilometres, which would have resulted in buffer zones, had been proposed by China and rejected by India. Later, India had accepted the modified “Colombo Conference Proposals” mooted by six non-aligned countries in December 1962 after the war, which would have permitted Indian civilian administration to be present alongside the Chinese in the vacated areas. China had reservations and backed out in March 1963 after initially acquiescing. It was ready to consider them only as a basis for further bilateral negotiations. Much water may have flown down the Chip Chap, Galwan and Chang Chenmo rivers since then, but it is not as if pullbacks and buffer zones have never been considered before.

The pullback on the North Bank of Pangong has resulted in the Chinese ceasing their patrolling between Fingers 4 and 8 for the first time in several decades. After the 1962 debacle, Indian patrols limited themselves to visiting Finger 8, which evolved as the de facto Indian line in this sector, but this access too was restricted by vehicle-mounted Chinese patrols along that stretch in recent decades. Given that China perceives its line to run further west of Finger 3, India has done well to maintain its permanent presence at the Dhan Singh Thapa Post near Finger 3 on what the Chinese regard as their side of the LAC.

As former Northern Army Commander Lt. Gen. D.S. Hooda has stated in a recent opinion piece, by agreeing to relocate east of Finger 8, the PLA is pulling back from its claimed “customary boundary line” and “this is definitely not a minor concession”. It is, as he has pointed out, in line with India’s consistent demand to restore the status quo ante that existed in April 2020.

Different implications

The word status quo ante in regard to the India-China boundary matters has different implications for the ground situation depending entirely on the timeline being referred to. In seeking a restoration of status quo ante on the North Bank of Pangong with reference to April-May 2020, the advantage secured by India on the South Bank was naturally a plus point, and put to good effect by Indian negotiators.

If the retention of the heights along the Kailash range is deemed so important for leveraging concessions elsewhere, as some claim, why is it that no previous government acted to occupy the heights earlier, including during the face-off in Depsang in 2013? After all, differences over the LAC are hardly new. The fact is that Indian troops secured the heights on the South Bank precisely to offset China’s “first mover” advantage on the North Bank. Moreover, if India’s objective is to achieve status quo ante, India too would logically be required to revert to its pre-April 2020 status.

The potential linkage between the heights of the Kailash range and Depsang, or for that matter Gogra and Hot Springs, cannot be arbitrarily conjured up. The situation in the pockets of differences is sui generis.

At the end of the 10th round of the India-China Corps Commander Level Meeting, the two sides have positively appraised the smooth completion of disengagement at Pangong, acknowledging that it was a significant step that provided a good basis for resolving the remaining issues along the LAC.

Instead of commending our military and External Affairs Ministry negotiators for their efforts in ensuring a successful disengagement at Pangong, some commentators have questioned the absence of “iron-clad agreements” for resolving the differences at Depsang or Gogra/Hot Spring, which are still being discussed. The negotiators ought to be given a chance. The truth is that there were no iron-clad guarantees in any of the agreements and protocols signed so far either, whether in 1993, 1996 or in 2005. Bilateral differences are best negotiated from a position of strength as has been done at Pangong, while maintaining high vigil and striving for positive outcomes elsewhere.

9. Editorial-3: Free and open

Austin’s visit is significant for bilateral ties, and cooperation on Indo-Pacific and Afghanistan

The timing of U.S. Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin’s visit to New Delhi over the weekend (March 19-21) was significant for many reasons. As the first senior ranking official of the Biden administration to meet with the Modi government, his visit this early in the new President’s tenure indicates the place India holds, on a par with the other two countries he visited prior to India: Japan and South Korea. The visit, just after the first ever Quad leaders’ summit, confirms the U.S.’s focus on greater maritime cooperation in the Indo-Pacific. Mr. Austin’s trip preceded an unannounced stop in Kabul where the U.S. is undertaking a major review of its troops pull-out schedule and peace plan. As a result, all three areas: bilateral ties, the Indo-Pacific and Afghanistan came up for discussion during talks with Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, and meetings with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar. On the bilateral front, the two sides agreed to boost their defence relationship through the use of three foundational agreements (LEMOA, COMCASA, and BECA), as well as increase cooperation in the areas of information sharing and logistics, artificial intelligence, space and build more linkages with the U.S. Commands. On Indo-Pacific strategy, Mr. Singh affirmed India’s resolve to maintain a free, open, and inclusive Indo-Pacific region with the U.S., as part of the Quad. On Afghanistan, the discussions are understood to have been consultative, as Mr. Austin is part of the decision-making process over whether the U.S. will stick to its May 1 deadline to pull out all remaining troops, and how to proceed forward in the Intra-Afghan dialogue. The U.S. does not thus far appear to have heeded India’s concerns on talks with the Taliban, making any talks conditional on a ceasefire, including India in all regional talks where Pakistan is also involved, and prioritising the needs of the government in Kabul. Even so, it is important that India expresses its sense of the situation in Afghanistan, given its important role there.

While Mr. Austin made it clear the Biden Administration is committed to CAATSA sanctions against all countries procuring high-value Russian military hardware, he said that the determination on India would only come after New Delhi takes delivery of the S-400 missile system. He confirmed that he had raised the issue of human rights in India, but added that these are part of conversations any two democracies would share, a sentiment seconded by the MEA. Finally, while officials said they discussed India’s challenge from China, Mr. Austin was careful not to make any direct reference to Beijing or about the LAC dispute, which New Delhi considers a bilateral issue. The omission, in contrast to his comments in Tokyo and Seoul, signalled both that New Delhi desired discretion on the issue, and that the U.S. Defence Secretary was sensitive to his host’s wish.

10. Editorial-4: The way forward

The Myanmar junta should heed the people and respect the election results

Ever since the military captured power in Myanmar seven weeks ago, the country has steadily descended into political and economic chaos. When the Generals toppled the democratically elected government, detained its leaders, including State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint, and declared a state of emergency with prohibitory orders, they may have thought that they could quickly consolidate power through force. But they were proved wrong as tens of thousands of people stood up against the junta. Faced with strong challenges in their path towards absolute power, the Generals responded with brutal force. At least 247 people have been killed since the February 1 coup, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a non-profit. The crisis had its spillover impacts on the borders as well. At least 300 Myanmarese, including police officers, are estimated to have since crossed into India. Mizoram Chief Minister Zoramthanga took up the issue with the Foreign Minister and India has shut the border for now, but it would be difficult for New Delhi to turn a blind eye to the border if the situation in Myanmar turns worse.

The military, which controlled the country through direct rule for almost 50 years until former junta ruler Than Shwe initiated the transition into partial democracy in 2010, is one of the most consistent enemies of democracy and human rights. In 1988 and 2007, the Generals unleashed violence to quell protests. But in the past, they managed to restore order quickly through fear and violence. Now, neither the junta’s bloody track record nor the actual use of force is dissuading the protesters who, after experiencing limited liberties for 10 years, refuse to recognise the junta. Mostly youngsters, they use VPN and encrypted messenger apps to organise protests, and are joined by thousands, including bank employees, port workers and medics, bringing the battered economy to a halt. As protests and violence continue, international pressure is also mounting on the Generals. In the past, the Myanmarese military paid little attention to international opinion or targeted sanctions. They are unlikely to be different now. But the Generals now find it increasingly difficult to consolidate power and restore order. The public remains defiant. How long will the Generals continue to kill their own people? And even if they quelled the protests through more bloodshed, what kind of a Myanmar would they be left with? Surely, no one wants an extremely poor, isolated country with a broken society and a shattered economy. The Myanmar Generals should, without further bloodshed, heed the public’s demands, end the coup, respect the election results and restore the country’s democracy. That is the only way forward.

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