Referendum on full statehood for Delhi: Kejriwal’s big idea is an impractical one

New Delhi: Is Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal chasing a chimera by trying to seek a referendum on full statehood for the national capital? At least, India's constitutional history and the law of the land confirm that there can't be any referendum as no such provision exists in the Constitution of India.

 Referendum on full statehood for Delhi: Kejriwal’s big idea is an impractical one

Arvind Kejriwal in a file photo. PTI

Bringing out the poll agenda, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government wants a referendum on the issue of statehood for Delhi and Kejriwal has sent a note to various departments, asking them to ‘draft a law and create machinery for’ such a practice.

According to the constitutional experts that Firstpost has spoken with, the idea of achieving full statehood for Delhi through referendum is not only an impractical proposition but unconstitutional as well.

Why so?

· There is no provision of seeking ‘referendum’ in the Indian Constitution.

· As a democratic nation, India holds election every five years that serves as referendum of the people of this country.

· In 1911, when India’s capital was shifted from Calcutta to Delhi, the British government ensured not to bring Delhi under a state, but it was given the status of capital of British India.

· The father of Indian Constitution, Dr BR Ambedkar, who as chairman of the Constitution Drafting Committee, after studying the federal structure of government in the US, Australia, Canada, etc noted that the national capital can’t be under a state or a local government.

· States Reorganization Act, 1956, didn’t merge Delhi with any other state and left it as a national

· In 1987, ‘Sarkaria Committee’ (later called Balakrishnan Committee) was appointed to look into the issues connected with the administration of Delhi and the report was submitted in 1989. In accordance with the recommendations of the Committee, Parliament passed ‘The Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi Act, 1991’, besides other legislations. Granting full statehood to Delhi was ruled out.

· For constitutional amendment a simple majority in Parliament won’t do. It requires 2/3rd majority.

Constitutional expert and political scientist, Subhash C Kashyap told Firstpost, "There’s no provision in the Indian Constitution for referendum, and as far as granting full statehood to Delhi is concerned, it’s not realisable in the foreseeable future. Going for a referendum, is like seeking referendum for Jammu & Kashmir, as demanded by separatists, which is dangerous.”

Former secretary, Delhi Assembly, SK Sharma said, "There is nothing called a ‘referendum’ in Indian Constitution. An elected government shouldn’t talk in an extra-constitutional manner, which is dangerous. There are ample references in our constitutional history and legislations were passed that clearly show that National Capital Territory (Delhi) can’t be under local government or local administration.”

Constitutionally, Delhi is a quasi-state with the Lieutenant Governor (L-G) as the state head. The L-G also has control over law and order and land in the National Capital Territory (NCT). The status of Delhi is more than that of a Union Territory and less than a state’s.

After announcing to seek a referendum, Kejriwal has asked the Urban Development department to come up with a feasibility report specifying a timeline. The department was asked to give various options available to the government for conducting such a referendum. The Law department has also been asked to discuss the legal issues regarding the matter. Going a step ahead, Delhi’s Law Minister Kapil Mishra said on Monday, “Government will do anything to see Delhi as a full state.”

Given the status of Delhi in the Constitution, what prompts Kejriwal to push for the issue of full statehood? Is it his astute move to keep himself in the limelight by diverting the attention of the opponents from controversies surrounding the AAP government? Moreover, with three MPs in Lok Sabha, will AAP be able to garner 2/3rd majority on the issue as required by the Constitution?

Shakti Sinha, former chief secretary, Andaman & Nicobar and current chairman, South Asia Institute for Strategic Affairs said, "Kejriwal is not constitutionally competent to do so. In India, referendum was sought only once (actually it was Goa Opinion Poll) in 1967, to decide the future of the Union Territory of Goa, Daman and Diu within the Indian Union. Besides that, there has been no other precedent."

Sharma added, "It’s a kind of gimmick. Today Kejriwal is asking for a referendum to grant full statehood to Delhi. What if his MLAs seek referendum, of say 50,000 people, to dislodge Kejriwal? Is it logical? What if Delhi becomes a state? The Centre will stop the fund it gives to Delhi for being a national capital, and instead Delhi would have to generate its own fund. Given the economic status of Delhi, it would be forced to levy high taxes to generate revenue and ultimately, the burden will be on the poor and those belonging to the lower economic strata. Can Kejriwal afford to go for it?"

This move of the Delhi CM has received strong criticism from the experts on constitutional affairs and law and intelligentsia, and has generated political heat. "It is unconstitutional to ask a referendum on statehood for Delhi. Kejriwal is trying to pitch Delhi against the whole country. The fallout of the action will be very grave. It is a dangerous ploy," remarked president, Delhi Pradesh Congress Committee, Ajay Maken.

Academician and honourary director, India Policy Foundation, Prof Rakesh Sinha said, "It’s all his style of politics of confrontation. He wants to project himself as a ‘democratic rebellion’. Probably, he’s ill advised. Kejrwal can opt for other democratic means to be heard.”

“I don’t want to comment on AAP’s individual decision or move, but Kejriwal is indulging in a kind of populism. This seeking of referendum has no locus standi. Probably, seeing Greece that went for referendum, the AAP government has got over-enthusiastic, but it should also know whether it would be able to get an amendment done. If it gets rejected, the AAP will brand other parties for ‘opposing public sentiment and demand’," a senior CPI (M), Member of Parliament, also an authority in constitutional affairs told Firstpost on condition of anonymity.

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Updated Date: Jul 07, 2015 22:29:24 IST