In the last 70 years, Delhi has progressed from being a part C state to a Union Territory to the national capital territory. Each word or phrase has brought to citizens of Delhi some additional democratic rights, but these are still not at par with full statehood. To add to this lexicographical wrangling is the other problem the city’s inhabitants have had to face: to watch their duly elected chief being thwarted by a viceregal Lieutenant Governor. But they never get to hear about elected mayors of London or DC facing roadblocks from unelected entities or even by their national governments. And that is why they are world-class cities.
Of India’s 29 states and seven Union territories, the Census of India 2011 found Delhi to be the 18th most populous. Thus, Delhi's population is around the same as Jammu and Kashmir and Tripura put together, or Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh put together. The combined population of six of the seven northeastern states is less than that of Delhi. However, the citizens of all these states and others have greater democratic rights than those enjoyed by the citizens of Delhi. This is only because Delhi is India’s capital territory.
But is that a good enough reason? If we look at the experiences of other developed democratic countries, we find that in each case, the citizens of these capital cities enjoy greater democratic rights than Delhi. And these rights are vested in the democratically elected government of their territory.
Greater London has a population of over 8.5 million (about two-thirds of Delhi) and covers an area of 606 square miles (Delhi has an area of 573 square miles). The Greater London Authority established in 2000, united all 33 boroughs of the area into a government that administers multiple city services, including transportation, economic development, fire, emergency planning, and more importantly manages land and police (unlike Delhi). The authority is run by a directly elected Mayor who is held accountable by a 25-member Assembly. The authority controls its services with complete control over its human resources (yet again, unlike Delhi). One of the boroughs under the authority — the City of London — is unique. It has a population of less than 10,000 and covers the square mile that makes up for the historic city of London. It has its separate mayor and police. The national government of United Kingdom operates from the borough of Westminster City which has its own council. The Westminster City Council operates under or shares responsibilities with the Greater London Authority. All borough councils are accountable to Greater London Authority, unlike in Delhi, where the municipal corporations are not accountable to the government of the territory. And all borough councils, except the city of London, are under the police jurisdiction of the Mayor of London, unlike in Delhi, where the police are not accountable to the chief minister of Delhi. The Mayor of London also has planning responsibilities, unlike in Delhi, where the responsibilities are vested in the Delhi Development Authority which is controlled by the Union government.
The capital of the United States, Washington DC has a population of nearly 700,000 residing in an area of 68 square miles. DC has a history of agitation for democratic participation. Its demand for full statehood is long-standing, with its mayor co-chairing a New Colombia Statehood Committee. It is governed under a mechanism that was established in 1973. It has a directly elected mayor and a 13-member council. While the council has authority to pass laws and govern local affairs, the US Congress has the power to overturn local laws (not the federal government, unlike for Delhi, where the Union government controls the territory’s government. The police, land, planning and services responsibilities are vested with the district’s government, unlike Delhi. In emergencies, the DC police need to work under the federal government. However, unlike Delhi, the residents of District of Columbia cannot elect Congressmen who have voting rights in the US Congress. All the members of Parliament from Delhi are equal to other members in rights and responsibilities. In November 2017, nearly 80 percent of DC voters approved an advisory referendum to make Washington, DC the 51st state of the US.
Madrid has an area of 233 square miles and a population of 3 million, while Berlin has a slightly larger population and area. Berlin is in fact considered a city-state. The municipal governments of these two capital cities perform similar functions as London or DC including control over police, land, planning and services.
The argument that Delhi’s government cannot be vested with full responsibilities including of land, police and services falls flat in the face of examples and experiences from the world over. In fact, the most vociferous supporters of these arguments are former bureaucrats of Delhi who prefer to perpetuate a bureaucratic stranglehold instead of democratic governance. This puts Delhi in a strange situation where the Union home ministry, apart from protecting India from terrorists, is also responsible for hotels owned by New Delhi Municipal Corporation, and the Union urban development minister has a say in metro fares. This situation is nothing but a travesty of democratic governance.
Delhi’s politicians, including its elected representatives, promise full statehood but on getting elected, become representatives of their party’s political interests rather than the interests of the people who elect them. This is as true of the current members of Parliament as of the previous ones.
As a citizen of Delhi for last 24 years, and a voter too, I have come to believe that the current arrangements, with an unelected Lieutenant Governor holding the elected government to ransom, is a violation of the principle of democratic governance which is the bedrock of the basic structure of the Indian Constitution. A mature polity would have never allowed such a travesty.
Updated Date: Jun 15, 2018 16:51 PM