Governance in Delhi Demands Public Good must Override Political Expediency

An exclusive conversation on Delhi matters, how the tussle between an elected government and the LG, both parties playing out their own narratives, brings governance to a full stop. How does the capital of India move on, when the bureaucracy and its political masters are at a continuous logjam? Joining in the conversation are V K Duggal, former Governor, Manipur and Mizoram, and former Home Secretary; Najeeb Jung, former LG of Delhi and former vice chancellor, Jamia Milia University; P K Tripathi, former chief secretary, Delhi; Justice Manmohan Sarin, former Lokayukta, Delhi, and former chief justice, Jammu and Kashmir High Court; and Pankaj Vohra, journalist, Sunday Guardian and formerly with The Hindustan Times. Moderating the discussion is Navin Berry, Editor, Di Conversations.

Navin Berry: This is a larger issue than of the usual centre-state relations, how Delhi as a city is being run? Is there a deficit in terms of governance? How bad is the scene today? You have a chief minister and two of his ministers in jail. They’re non-functional. You have junior ministers in the state running the show. As far as the AAP or the local government is concerned, you have a fair dose of Centre intervention in the city. How does this affect the average Delhiite? How much play is there between the Centre and State between political parties?

Centre has its point of view, so has the local government. There is also eight months down the line, the state assembly elections. Will this push the concerned parties further, because there’s a bigger play coming into action? Everybody wants to be in power. Will a double engine growth solve all the problems of Delhi?

Do we need a structural redefining of Centre-State relations? The Supreme Court had ruled out in some cases recently, the Centre brought out an ordinance to reverse it. So, if there’s only going to be point counterpoint, where does it leave Delhi?

Mr. Tripathi, the situation as it is, is there a governance deficit? If so, how much is it affecting the average Delhiite?

P K Tripathi: If you look at the governance of any place, you have a political system, you have a bureaucratic system, and you have a judicial system to see that everything works properly. Now, Delhi, as I know, has been a part of the UT cadre. We all used to look forward to a posting in Delhi. The challenges that Delhi government posed, let’s say in urban governance, have always held a challenge. But today if you ask an officer, I have talked to many of them, and they say we prefer not to come to Delhi, we’ll prefer to be in Goa. We prefer to be in Arunachal. We prefer to be in Mizoram rather than having a posting in Delhi. Now that shows the deficit in governance. The whole dialogue between the political and the administrative system has broken down and the bureaucrats are not feeling safe and comfortable. And if you have a tense government, then governance will suffer as it is happening in Delhi, because every day you have a minister, you have a statement that action should be taken against the chief secretary. The chief secretary naturally then replies to whatever charges are levelled against him. So instead of working for governance and the city’s welfare, you have a tussle going on, on a day-to-day basis.

Navin Berry: How much does this affect the average Delhiite?

P K Tripathi: So once the chief secretary is busy answering the inquiries against him, how will he govern?

Navin Berry: That way if three ministers are in jail and one minister is only doing a hunger strike or a fast, then when are they working? Who is working and who’s actually running the government?

P K Tripathi: That is what I am saying – the problem is that the political class has to give direction, shape to the policies that I want this to be done. And it is the bureaucracy which has to deliver. And if they do not deliver, but before deciding the policy, there also has to be a dialogue whether it is doable or not doable. What are the challenges?

Navin Berry: So, you are saying delivery is not happening.

P K Tripathi: Delivery cannot happen. I’m not saying it is not happening. I’m saying delivery cannot happen in such a circumstance.

Navin Berry: Mr. Duggal would you like to comment?

Vinod Duggal: Firstly, I presume this is an intellectual or academic discussion without prejudice against no particular person, no particular political party. And the aim is to suggest how Delhi can get better governance.

I have been part of the government when there was no chief minister, I was secretary to the LG. And then of course later as municipal commissioner, I had under me electricity, water, roads, you name it. I mean, from morning five o’clock to evening 11 o’clock was the working hours. There was a BJP government in Delhi, and a Congress government at the centre. There was Congress government in Delhi, BJP government at the centre during Vajpayjee’s time. The main issue that worries me is that when there is a problem pertaining to the people, how to serve best the people; however, the first thing that’s happening and not only in Delhi, wherever the opposition party governments are there, it all gets politicized.

I’m being absolutely honest, whichever government was there, dissent was never taken as disrespect. You could disagree with a chief minister, you could disagree with the Prime Minister.

So, unless there is an elevated way of thinking on all sides, that solving people’s problems should take priority over everything else. The desire to work together and serve the people, that idea has somehow disappeared.

Navin Berry: Jung Saab, what is your idea?

Najeeb Jung: Let me first start with what Tripathi Saab said. There is obviously a crisis that stems and impacts not only Delhi, but impacts the preservation and sanctity of the Constitution. It impacts governance in a much larger way than we can cover in this discussion. The Constitution is absolutely clear, vis-a-vis central government and the elected government. The Constitution section 239 AA, and it has been upheld repeatedly by the Supreme Court, makes the central government responsible for the administration and governance of Delhi. This question has been raised repeatedly, whether Delhi should have a statehood or not. In 1986, there was a Balakrishnan report, which is on record, and it was upheld in 2021 by Justice Chief PK Mishra in a judgement, clarifying clearly that it is the centre that is responsible.

Now, public order, land, police will always be the responsibility of the central government. There are reasons for that. There are subjects listed clearly, again in the state list in the Constitution, which the elected government can manage. Now, all these years, barring little friction, there have been no dispute on these issues.

However, ‘services’ is the question mark here which is not defined in the Constitution, and which the Supreme Court itself has kept in abeyance. Meaning no dishonour, I think the Supreme Court is erring in keeping this in abeyance because there is a convention on how services are to be managed.

Now in Delhi, it was almost impossible for this bureaucracy to work. The bureaucracy as Mr. Duggal will tell you, is a very malleable organization. We learn to live with everybody. And I worked in Madhya Pradesh where the bulk of my time was spent with the BJP, but I had chief ministers of the Congress government who I worked with without any issue. And when I came here as the LG, it was the UPA government that appointed me, and subsequently I worked with the BJP, the Honourable Prime Minister. That’s how we are trained, because we follow this book. This is our Bible. We swear to the Constitution of India. We don’t swear on the Quran, we don’t swear on the Bible.

We don’t swear on the Gita at the academy. There is a swearing-in ceremony where we swear to the Constitution of India. So, there have been issues of governance because I think that when this government came in, there was a high level of excitability. They had come out of what they called ‘andolan’. They thought that they could change the constitution.

So, the question is with all this, there has been an inability for smooth governance in Delhi, and that continues to exist. This ‘services’ has never been an issue till this government. There is a tradition that the honourable chief minister would come to the LG and say these are the guys we want to be transferred and then you had a rational discussion. 90%, you agreed. There’s just no personal agenda.

Navin Berry: Judge Saab, what is your opinion, especially on that aspect of upholding the Constitution for decades.

Manmohan Sarin: There is almost unanimity among us on this panel on the basic issues and the approach. Jung Saab has referred to some of these things, the role of the court, et cetera. Of course, there are some pertinent or essential details which obviously cannot be covered in such a short time. I had gone through in these cases, the six judgments that have come from the Supreme Court on these issues of 239 AA, in each of these judgements, the advice by the Supreme Court has been – have political dialogue, deliberation. That is the answer. Conflict is not the answer.

This is the malady, which is now infested in Delhi; we need to see that it does not spread to other states.

There has been an overall decline in the political discourse, far from respecting dissent or appreciating a different perspective. You may have a view, but you are not the total repository of all wisdom. There is wisdom in appreciating a dissenting view. Now, that seems to have gone overboard.

What has happened is if there is a dissent expressed, that is taken as an animosity, Now, that is the new pervading culture. That is something which must come to an end.

Vinod Duggal: I just want to add four words, particularly where matters of public interest are concerned. When there is a battle, public interest suffers.

Manmohan Sarin: We hear this phrase so often, have ‘zero tolerance’. But what we forget is that zero tolerance is for corruption. Zero tolerance is for negating administrative principles, not following them.

Now, on a larger scope, you see what happens is the political goal, and I’m saying across the board, seems to be the mantra. And at the altar, you sacrifice good governance, good governance and values of integrity of persons.

Navin Berry: Pankaj, would you like to shed a journalistic macro picture or the governance deficit?

Pankaj Vohra: There is certainly a trust deficit between the present government at the centre and the elected government in Delhi. And it gets manifested in all the kind of clashes which keep on happening on a daily basis between the LG and the chief minister’s office. Having said this, I have a different perspective. Most of the problems in Delhi arise out of multiplicity of authority. There are so many authorities, and there there’s no accountability for a lot of people. Now, the question which also arises is that should people who have no accountability have more power than people who have been elected directly. In the case of the present government, for instance, these people have been elected with an overwhelming majority, which has not been seen by anyone in the past, and I don’t think it’ll ever happen in the future either.

And these people are also not from the regular political stream. And they, you know, are all the time on a war path, the current chief minister proclaims himself to be an anarchist.

Here, it is a situation where, the chief minister goes one step, the LG goes two steps. So, it is not solving the problem, it is only complicating the problems.

In 1989, there used to be a Delhi Metropolitan Council, and there was a Municipal Corporation governed by an act of 1957.

When VP Singh came to power, these two bodies were superseded, and Justice Sarkaria was asked to end multiplicity of authority and make recommendations where Delhi could have a more responsive civic body. Justice Sarkaria was in those days in many such commissions. So, Mr. Balakrishnan, who was a former bureaucrat, was added, and he ended up giving a recommendation where instead of ending multiplicity of authority, it created more problems and it rested more powers in the hands of bureaucrats rather than the elected representatives.

These amendments were made, and once they are a part of the book, they have to be followed. There is, there are no two ways. And when the Supreme Court, gives advice, it is purely on the basis of what is listed in the Constitution, but how it got into the Constitution also needs to be properly looked into it. This arrangement worked primarily, all these years, because of two reasons.

When Mr. Madanlal Khurana took over as chief minister in 1993 November, he had earlier been an opposition leader. Every bureaucrat in Delhi knew him and knew how much problem he was capable of creating. So, when he took over as the chief minister, whatever he wanted, his will would prevail, and the bureaucracy would never create any impediments. And the LG, there was Mr. Dave who was appointed by Mr. Narsimha Rao. He tried but there were clashes. But Mr. Khurana’s personality was such that, you know, he had an overwhelming impact?

Then came Shiela ji.  Basically, you know, she was a bureaucrat’s wife, and she also had the advantage when she took over shortly after that, it was an NDA government at the centre, and you had Mr. Vijay Kapoor as the LG of Delhi. Mr. Vijay Kapoor had the distinction of holding, a blue-blooded Delhi guy, and held every position from an ADM till the LG, including municipal commissioner, chief secretary, DESU chief, so he knew the city pretty well. Sheila Ji was also very much dependent and protective of the bureaucracy. Bureaucrats had a very good time, and some very good work was done. It was because of a very good coordination and very good teamwork. And there were, were no clashes.

Vinod Duggal: When Sheilaji was Chief Minister, Vajpayee Ji was the Prime Minister that was the difference. What was important is that what was in the interest of the people of Delhi, Government of India would let them work and say, okay, you do your work. I was part of the Delhi administration. I was handling several portfolios.

Navin Berry: While all of you have said we are avoiding personalities. Does the question boil down to a question of personalities only? Because if you talk about Sheila Ji, her personality was different. You also talk about Arvind Kejriwal, where you are saying that he came to power, assuming he will be some kind of an anarchist. His claim to fame is to disrupt.

Najeeb Jung: The personality angle is absolutely critical. Like I said, yes, we should not doubt the intent of Mr. Kejriwal at all. He came with the intent of changing what he thought was a corrupt system. If you remember, he led almost a revolution in 2012 against what he kept describing corruption, corruption, corruption. And that he steamrolled into Delhi on that, on that mandate. So therefore, he came with a conviction that he has the ability to change the thinking of the system. What he did not understand is that the system is too old.

It’s by itself quite mature. It needs very careful handling by those who want to change it. He forgot that if he cannot agree with it, he can’t violate it. And he kept repeatedly saying that this is wrong. No, that’s where the problem came. And of course, then the temperament that he was in a hurry to perform. He wants to perform for the benefit of Delhi. Please understand, he has worked enormously for the poor of Delhi. And also his ministers, each one of them have been very sincere in their approach. No, but the problem is the tongue. The problem is what you say.

Navin Berry: If I ask you that, your approach to coming to power to say, I am the revolutionary who will change, the messiah. Now that will not work once you assume power, when you are in the hotseat yourself, you cannot continue to disrupt.

Najeeb Jung: That is where age and experience come. I mean, look at VP Singh. He came with the same impressions, but VP Singh had age and experience on his side, and therefore there was no misbehaviour. He let his government go in 11 months, but he was not misbehaving. But he came with the same intent. He came to create a revolution. So, the only problem that has happened here in the last 10 years, much to our bad luck is the attitude. I think the man is first class, I think he had good ministers. The intent was good, but, and also the MLAs were very uppity.

That has become the bane of this government. And it has not changed successively despite 10 years. We were hoping in 2019 when he came, that there will be a change in their behavior, but it didn’t happen.

Manmohan Sarin: What has been happening is that the setup that Dehi has been given under the act is for special reasons. Dehi has a unique situation. The Supreme Court has clearly defined it. Unfortunately, if you go through all the judgments where a pattern is emerging, which does not auger well. In a sense, the Supreme Court has come down and said, look, the LG has to exercise this power of reference very sparingly. It is not in every case that he has to. Every matter need not be referred to the LG. He has to be informed only. They have interpreted it, that consent is not to be taken. Now, unfortunately, in these cases, the centre has taken a different position. So, the Supreme Court has clarified those and set it right, and that is while doing so, you know, just the expressions they have used, are – it is time that the parties, both the parties they refer to, they understand the concept of collaborative federalism and constitutional balance, constitutional governance and objectivity, nurtured and cultivated. This is the answer.

What the point I am making is, going to the court is the last solution. You have had six judgements coming through over a period of time. And ultimately, which Supreme Court has again referred it to the constitutional bench. Only in the services matter, rightly so, they have laid down the conditions, and in those conditions with due respect, the centre has also to abide by them. There are various things which have been clarified, and you can’t say that the centre is totally following them. Of course, there are enough provocations for them not to follow.

The answer lies in showing political maturity at this stage, going in the process of consensus and dialogue to the extent possible. And you don’t have to bend, you don’t have to give in, but tell the man, this is all that is available to you.

P K Tripathi: My experience too is also that having two different governments is not a recipe for disaster. And it has worked. And not only that, I can now share with you that the Mrs. Dikshit, when she was CM, the best time she had was when the BJP was at the centre. With all major reforms like power sector reform, CNG and similar bold decisions happened during that time.

Navin Berry: As importantly, are there any bold areas where you think a decision is pending or wavering somewhere today where Delhi needs some things, some issues happening?

P K Tripathi: The biggest area is water. See in Delhi, water was a big crisis, until 13 years ago. So, there was a crisis and tankers were being looted. And then, it was realised that there has to be consensus not only between the centre and the state, but also between the states. Because Delhi has a very peculiar, you have a great advantage of being a capital. So, you get a lot of respect from others, but at the same time, you are highly dependent on everybody. See, if there’s pollution in Punjab you are affected. You cannot remove the pollution in Delhi without cooperation from Punjab and Haryana. And, you cannot solve the water crisis in Delhi without cooperation of Himachal, UP and Haryana and Delhi.

Navin Berry: Somewhere without casting aspersions on any particular person. Is there a situation now where the present state government, in their rule book, they don’t have a principle of collaboration, is that an issue?

Najeeb Jung: May I give an example. When I was LG, there was also one year of President rule, and water is a common issue, and we had a crisis. But I called Mr. Khattar, who was chief minister, and I called him and requested him and within two days the water had arrived. So, it is how you deal with these people and what they think of you.

Vinod Duggal: On another level, when I was secretary, water resources, going across India, there were huge battles between Punjab and Haryana. So, I made a presentation to prime minister (Manmohan Singh). He said call both CMs. So, they both came, and after a brief conversation, in public interest, they resolved the issue. This is where I am going back again, where public interest is concerned. Your personal political agenda should go into the background and serve the public interest.

Navin Berry: Tripathi Saab, what has caused the water crisis? This current one.

P K Tripathi: The first is, you must have very good relations with your neighbours. So, we had a principal secretary, irrigation, a very seasoned senior officer to me, and I had known him for a number of years. So, he called me, saying, what is this? He said, in future, let us decide. I know you and you know me. We will not allow this matter to become a political issue at all. If there’s a problem, we will talk, and please don’t go to your CM and I will not go to my CM and we will solve it. It is our job as bureaucrats to solve the problem. But if you make it political, then I cannot help.

Pankaj Vohra: Additionally, I can only say that we all know that overall Delhi is overpopulated. The infrastructure is not there. It cannot cope with the kind of migration which keeps on taking place. The people who are already living here are also living in misery because they don’t get the kind of things which they should be getting. So, many years ago there used to be a policy of rehabilitating or making these NCR townships. So that migration to Delhi does not happen. Now NCR also is fully developed and more and more people have come and settled out there. As a matter of fact, there’s more, as much population in Gurgaon, Faridabad, Indirapuram et cetera, as much it is in Delhi.

Things are not getting solved this way because resources are limited and modern technology can take you only up to a point. And on top of that, there is a confrontation which is taking place all the time because there’s a government at the centre, which, treats its opponents as opposition, not as stakeholders. And there are state governments which, look at the centre also in a similar way. So, till the time there is a better coordination, more streamlined relationship, and that is the point where the bureaucracy has to play a major part.

Najeeb Jung: I think that water is a very serious crisis. It’s 50 degrees temperature – come what may, if we have to beg Haryana, if we have to send tankers there, we must get water for the people of Delhi. Otherwise, I think Delhi has already had a hundred deaths.

Manmohan Sarin: But as for a permanent solution, I think what the other measures which are required, at least all these pollution free, treating the other water that is used for horticulture and otherwise.

P K Tripathi: You are absolutely right because in Delhi there are agreements on water. And every state has been given certain quota. But Delhi already has exhausted its quota in the Yamuna. In the Ganga, we had no quota, but it has been given because the Tehri Dam came up and Delhi government paid 5% cost of Tehri Dam to get the water. You see, if you are the needy person, like, you know, you are the state which requires help, then you have no choice but to go to another person, convince him, request him, persuade him to listen to you. And you should also be willing to invest.

Manmohan Sarin: What about rainwater harvesting?

P K Tripathi: So now in my opinion, it is only my personal opinion that future for more water for Delhi can only come when Renuka and Kishau dam are constructed. So, till that time comes, the only answer is that you must have a dual piping system in Delhi and you must have small STPs instead of large STPs. So, the colony wastewater gets treated. And it should be recycled into your tank, which should be used for flushing. 82% of the water, 90% of water is used for flushing. Only 10% of the water is used for drinking and kitchen.

Navin Berry: So, moving on, my bigger concern right now or extending my concern, is that you have state elections eight months down the line in Delhi. So, are we going to witness intensification of all that is ongoing or will there be some rational coming and some help coming to the city?

Najeeb Jung: No, there’s going to be no politeness, no softness. So, I think we have to reconcile with that. It’s up to the people of Delhi now to see who they elect.

Navin Berry: And my last question on a very constructive note, any solutions you want to offer for the setup of Delhi for the future? When, who will put it together is one thing, but if there is multiplicity of authorities, as Pankaj mentioned, there is the services area where the Supreme Court has not pronounced its views. There is deficiency in terms of governance in the state. You are saying water is a crisis which is emerging or has emerged as symbiotic of the malice that is there in the city. It doesn’t even behoove well for the capital of India to not have water. When we are a progressive country, we are saying we are a world leader, a global emerging power. We certainly need water. Any solutions you recommend for the structure of Delhi.

P K Tripathi: There are so many recommendations have been made. There has to be sharing of power between the centre and the state. And as it was working, a certain working arrangement had been arrived at where, a certain level of postings, for example, let us take the services matter. All super time officers, the file was always sent to LG for approval. Conventions were built up and the solution was there.

So now the point problem arose, when a new government came, they said no, we’ll not send files to LG, which LG would take as insult beyond a point. See, LGs are willing to help, but if you tell them that no, you are nonsense and you are nobody and I will not even send the file to you. Then that is not taken well.

Navin Berry:Are you saying the structure is all right if it is respected?

Najeeb Jung: In a nutshell, I would say it’s very workable. It has worked since the chief commissioner system ended and the lieutenant governor came in. It really depends on personalities that if you want to break conventions, if we don’t want to listen to reason, right now we blame the AAP government, but I am saying one could have a very unreasonable LG also you will break conventions. So, the point is here, because there are two authorities which are powerful then I think the level of maturity and sensibilities are required. And there are established conventions, if you follow them, there is no dispute.

Manmohan Sarin: The answer is constitutional governance and balance and objectivity.

Pankaj Vohra: I personally think that Delhi should have full statehood. Delhi has a population of nearly three crore people. There are states which are with smaller population, which have the right to self-determination, self-rule. It was said that Delhi is everybody’s mistress, nobody’s wife. There’s no sense of belonging. If the present system has to continue, then there has to be more accountability and more accessibility. You know, if the administration has to be run by the bureaucrats, they should be accessible.

Navin Berry: But ministers also need to be accessible, right?

Pankaj Vohra: You know an elected representative will always be accessible because he has to get elected the next time. A bureaucrat may not be, every bureaucrat is not accessible. There are large number of bureaucrats who are darlings of the people. People, you know, love to go to them because they solve problems. But there are also bureaucrats who just have everything ready on the file, but nothing is happening on the ground. So that approach has to change.

Vinod Duggal: I finished with government, you know, about nine years back. You know, when we joined the service, you are a public servant. And I was in government for 50 years and never deviated from that principle. And this is what my guidance is. You are talking about the next elections and the politics, Mr. Nikita Khrushchev said that politicians are saying all over the world, they will promise you bridges where there are no rivers also. I am only saying where public interest is concerned, politics should take a backseat.

Navin Berry: So, basically, confrontational politics must end. Number two. In another context, someone said the people are watching and they will make their own conclusions and vote accordingly. Till such time, one can only hope that Delhi suffers less and quality in governance achieves new horizons.

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