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Centre vs Delhi Govt on control over services: timeline of a dispute

GS Paper 2

Syllabus: Functions and Responsibilities of the Union and the States, Issues and Challenges Pertaining to the Federal Structure, Devolution of Powers


Source: IE

 Direction: The article highlights the protracted legal battle between the Centre and the Delhi government and SC’s verdicts on this dispute.


Context: A five-judge Constitution Bench of the SC is hearing the dispute between the Centre and the Delhi government over matters pertaining to control over the transfers and the overall functioning of administrative services in the National Capital Territory (NCT) of Delhi.

Article 239AA:
  • Article 239 AA was inserted in the Constitution by the 69th Amendment Act, 1991, and conferred Special Status upon Delhi following the recommendations of the S Balakrishnan Committee (set up in 1987 to look into Delhi’s demands for statehood).
  • According to this provision, the NCT of Delhi will have an Administrator and a Legislative Assembly.
  • The Legislative Assembly shall have the power to make laws for the whole or any part of the NCT with respect to any matters in the State List or Concurrent List except on the subjects of police, public order, and land.

 Timeline of the dispute 

The 2017 Delhi HC verdict:

  • For administration purposes of the NCT, the Lieutenant Governor (LG) is not bound by the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers in every matter.
  • On appeal, the SC referred the matter to decide the interpretation of Article 239AA of the Constitution.


The 2018 SC verdict:

  • A five-judge Bench laid down broad parameters for the governance of Delhi.
  • The court limited the LG’s jurisdiction to matters involving land, police, and public order, stating that for all other matters, he must act with the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers.


The SC’s 2019 split verdict:

  • The verdict was essentially delivered to decide the contentious issues based on the law settled by the five-judge Constitution Bench in 2018.
  • A two-judge Bench settled several issues relating to the powers of the LG, however, on the issue of control over services, the two judges ruled differently.
  • In the case of a split verdict, the case is heard afresh by a larger Bench assigned by the CJI.


The SC’s 3-judge Bench and the Centre’s argument to refer it to a larger Bench:

  • The Centre argued that because Delhi is the national capital and the “face of the nation,” it needed the authority to order transfers and postings of personnel there.
  • The court agreed that the scope of the legislative and executive powers of the Centre and NCT of Delhi would need an authoritative pronouncement under Article 145(3) of the Constitution.
    • Article 145(3): The minimum number of Judges who must sit to decide any case involving a substantial question of law concerning the interpretation of the Constitution shall be five.
  • The court noted that the primary contention is related to the interpretation of Article 239 AA(3)(a) of the Constitution, which deals with special provisions for the NCT of Delhi.
  • Hence a three-judge Bench had referred this case (last year) to a larger Bench on the Centre’s plea for “further examination”.


Insta Links:

Centre-Delhi row heads to Constitution Bench


Mains Links:

Q. Whether the Supreme Court Judgement (July 2018) can settle the political tussle between the Lt. Governor and the elected government of Delhi? Examine. (UPSC 2018)


Prelims Links: (UPSC 2020)

In the context of India, which one of the following is the characteristic appropriate for bureaucracy?

  1. An agency for widening the scope of parliamentary democracy
  2. An agency for strengthening the structure of federalism
  3. An agency for facilitating political stability and economic growth
  4. An agency for the implementation of public policy


Ans: 4