A five-judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court is hearing a dispute between the Delhi government and the Central government over the control of services. Almost five years ago, another Constitution Bench had ruled in favour of the State government in a similar tussle.


What is the present dispute?

  • A five-judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court is hearing the dispute between the Delhi government and the Central government.
  • The dispute is over matters pertaining to control over the transfers and the overall functioning of administrative services in the National Capital Territory (NCT) of Delhi. The administrative services include appointments and transfers, in the national capital.


What is a Constitution Bench?

  • Article 145(3) deals with the setting up of a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court comprising at least five judges “for the purpose of deciding any case involving a substantial question of law as to the interpretation” of the Constitution.
  • This is the second time that a constitutional bench has been set up to decide on issues between the Delhi government and Delhi’s Lieutenant Governor — the Centre’s representative in the capital — in the past four years.


What gave rise to the dispute?

  • Article 239 AA was inserted in the Constitution by the 69th Constitutional Amendment Act, 1991.
  • Based on the recommendations of S Balakrishnan Committee, it gave special status to Delhi.
  • It says that the National Capital Territory (NCT) of Delhi will have an Administrator and a Legislative Assembly.
  • The Legislative Assembly “shall have power to make laws for the whole or any part of the NCT w.r.t. any of the matters in the State List or Concurrent List in so far as any such matter is applicable to Union territories”. However, the legislative assembly of Delhi cannot legislate on the following three subjects – Police, Public Order, and Land.
  • However, in the past few years, governance in the NCT has often been a subject of conflict between the Delhi government and the L-G.


Control over Administrative Services

  • In 2019, a two-judge bench of the SC delivered a split verdict on the aspect of who controls administrative services in Delhi.
  • The two-judge bench had recommended that a three-judge bench be set up to decide the issue of control of administrative services.
  • Further, in May 2022, a three-judge Bench had referred this case to a larger Bench on the Central government’s plea.
  • The three-judge Bench had decided that the question of control over administrative services required “further examination”.


Central and State Government’s Arguments

  • The Central Government has consistently maintained that because Delhi is the national capital and the face of the country, it must have control over administrative services, which include appointments and transfers.
  • On the other hand, the Delhi government has argued that in the interest of federalism, the elected representatives must have power over transfers and postings.
      • The government had also contended that the recent amendments to the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (Amendment) Act, 2021, violate the doctrine of basic structure of the Constitution.


What are the legal Issues before the Supreme Court?

  • There are two legal issues before the court –
    • The first arises from a reference made by a two-judge Bench in February 2019.
      • While deciding on the distribution of powers between the Delhi government and Centre, left the question of who will have control over the administrative services for consideration by a larger Bench.
    • Second issue is the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (Amendment) Act 2021, passed by the Parliament.
  • The Act provided that the term “government” referred to in any law made by the Legislative Assembly of Delhi will imply the Lieutenant Governor (L-G).
  • However, the Delhi government has challenged the constitutional validity of the Act.