Return of 14 Bills by MHA- Constitutional or not?

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TOPIC: Functions and responsibilities of the Union and the States, issues and challenges pertaining to the federal structure.

What is the issue?

In the past one year, the Ministry of Home Affairs has returned 14 Bills passed by the Delhi Legislative Assembly. In none of the 14 Bills, the Delhi government took prior approval from the central government and straightaway passed them in the Assembly.

These Bills also include the controversial Jan Lokpal Bill which sought “overriding powers” to punish even the central government employees over allegations of corruption.

This issue has triggered a fresh dispute between the Delhi government and the central government.

What the central government says?

The Bills which came for assent were returned by the MHA because required procedures were not followed by the Assembly.

A senior Home Ministry official said,” Since Delhi is a Union Territory, any Bill before being introduced in the Assembly has to be vetted by the MHA first. It has to come in the form of a legislative proposal first and if found that it is not repugnant with any Central laws, then only can it be introduced in the Assembly, let alone passed.This procedure was not followed in the case of any of these 14 Bills”.

What the Delhi government says?

Prior assent of the MHA is not required as per the provisions of the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi Act (GNCTD), 1991.

According to Section 26 of the GNCTD Act,” No Bill passed by the Delhi Assembly should be invalid merely since prior assent of the LG ( Lieutenant Governor) or the MHA had not been taken”.

What does the Constitution say?

A Constitutional Amendment Act in 1991 gave special powers to the National Capital. This Act gave more powers to Delhi as compared to any other Union Territory but less than a full fledged State.

Article 239 (AA) mentions that the Delhi assembly has the power to legislate on all matters except police, land and public order.

There is no requirement under Article 239 (AA) that a Bill before being introduced in the Delhi Legislative Assembly should get prior sanction of the Central Government. The Constitution has given special powers to Delhi, and in that respect it is a partial state.

Delhi has been given powers of a State for functional and legislative purposes and the LG is supposed to work on the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers like in other states.

Apart from the Jan Lokpal Bill, which seeks powers to punish central government employees, the Delhi Assembly is competent to legislate on all matters mentioned in the State and Concurrent lists.

But in some cases, the Centre, via the President and the LG, has the final say, for example, in the use of the Consolidate Fund of the Capital.

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