Delhi’s LG and ‘basic structure’

The appointment of a political person as LieutenantGovernor of Delhi militates against the Constitutional scheme, argues Ashok Kapur.

Delhi’s LG and ‘basic structure’

It is a Constitutional appointment, arguably the most important of the seven LGs in India, each heading a Union Territory. But the position in Delhi is unique, being the capital of India.

Like all Union Territories, Delhi also has an Elected Assembly and a Council of Ministers to aid and advise the LG in the discharge of his official functions. All this may sound similar to the Constitutional position of the Governor of a state. But the similarity ends here.

The position of an LG of a UT is not subordinate or junior to a Governor of a state, for his Constitutional role is distinct from that of the latter.


A Governor is the Head of State in a largely ceremonial capacity, whereas the LG, especially in Delhi, is the Head of the Administration in some sensitive Constitutional subjects such as Public Order, Police and Land. In all these cases, the LG acts independently of the Council of Ministers and deals directly with the Union Government.

“The Administrator (LG) is the medium through which the President exercises the function of administering the Union Territories,” according to the Supreme Court.

The Constitution terms the LG as the Administrator. According to the Supreme Court, “the status of the Administrator is not that of a purely Constitutional functionary.

It differs from that of the Governor of a State. He can act without the advice of (elected) Ministers, say in the exercise of judicial or quasi-judicial functions. In cases where a Governor (of a state) who may not have any discretion to override the Council of Ministers, the LG can differ and refer the matter to the Union Government for their final decision. He can (even) issue executive orders in his name.”

It will be noticed that the LG, Delhi acting as an “Administrator” is but a limb of the Permanent Executive of the Union Territory of Delhi. For this Constitutional reason, he must be a member of the Indian Administrative Service. By definition, IAS officers are recruited, trained and qualified for such assignments.

In the initial stages of one’s career, a civil servant works in the field as an Executive Magistrate, which equips him to handle such Constitutional roles later in his career. Generally, the LG is a retired Secretary to Government of India, in which role he has a broad acquaintance with the working of the Council of Ministers at the Union level as well. The Union Government has appointed a politician to the Constitutional post of LG, Delhi.

This is a departure from Constitutional norms. Generally, the LG is a career civil servant. There have been instances, though not under the present Government, that a member of a uniformed service has been appointed but that was in the distant past.

The outgoing LG was also a distinguished civil servant who, experience tells us was a healthy check against excesses of the ruling politicians of the UT. He ensured healthy checks and balances between the Permanent Executive and the elected Legislature, which, in the ultimate analysis is how a Constitutional democracy is designed to function.

There is another critical aspect to the present arrangement which somehow has escaped public notice.

The present arrangement offends the ‘basic structure’ of the Constitution as enunciated by the Supreme Court in the celebrated case of Kesavananda Bharati way back in 1974. One of the basic features outlined by the Court is the ‘rule of law’.

The concept may sound somewhat abstract. A fundamental stipulation of the ‘rule’ implies the existence of a prime institution that translates official policy, as outlined by the ruling political executive into action in the field – the permanent executive – and shall be strictly neutral.

It is apolitical, and has no political ideology. It is meant to serve the constituted Government of the day, not the ruling party.

Another ‘basic feature’ of the Constitution, as enunciated in the said case is the ‘separation of powers’. It implies that the three coequal organs of the State – the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary – have their respective roles broadly defined in the Constitutional scheme. Thus, just as a member of the Permanent Executive cannot be appointed to a political office, a member of the ruling political party cannot be appointed to a post in the Permanent Executive. To do so would be to violate the ‘basic structure’ of the Constitution.

No organ of the State can act in such a manner, not the ruling party, not the Executive, not even the Judiciary at any level. By positioning a political Head of the Administration in the Capital, the Government has – by a single stroke of its pen – politicized the entire Administrative machinery.

There is another consequence which, apparently, has not been properly thought through. The UT’s permanent civil service will now be under two political masters. The present Central Government is under a different political hue whereas the NCR Government is under another political hue. The LG gets his orders directly from the Central government on matters pertaining to issues of Land management and Police.

On other related matters, it will get the policy orders from the elected Government of the Union Territory. It will put the Administration in a very difficult situation. No Administration can simultaneously serve two masters. The day-to-day administration of various subjects, divided between the Union and the States under the Constitution is but an organic whole.

In practical terms, each Constitutional subject is related to, and impacts – directly or indirectly – other subjects. While implementing various policies and programmes of the elected Government of UT, it may impinge on the subjects reserved exclusively for the Central Government.

The LG is bound to give directions to his Administration to implement policy as dictated by the Central Government. Such policy directions may vary from the policies of the elected UT Government. This situation will put the entire Administrative machinery in a tight spot. Either way, it will run afoul of the Central or UT Government. The potential for conflict is thereby inbuilt.

The Constitutional scheme provides for two broad categories of public functionaries, the elected political leaders and the selected civil servants.

All elected politicians who come to occupy positions of official authority are accountable to the respective legislature. All selected civil servants are accountable to the elected Government of the day under which they serve. Authority and accountability of public servants are two sides of the same democratic coin. There can be no authority without accountability in a democracy like ours. Hence, a political LG of Delhi is a Constitutional anomaly, being neither elected nor selected.

(The writer is a retired IAS officer.)