Supreme Court. (File Photo: IANS). Image Source: IANS News

New Delhi, Jan 29 : Ten days ahead of Delhi polls, the Supreme Court on Wednesday began hearing on the turf war between Delhi government and Centre on the jurisdiction to transfer and post bureaucrats in accordance with expertise to streamline governance, but the latter's counsel did not show up.

The transfer and posting of bureaucrats is a major bone of contention between the Arvind Kejriwal government and the Centre. The issue gains significance, as Delhi goes to the polls on February 8, without sorting this issue, which virtually cripples various initiatives of the government. Senior advocate K.V. Viswanathan, representing Delhi government, said without the transfer powers, it is "commissioning an artist without limb." A bench headed by Chief Justice S.A. Bobde and comprising Justices B.R. Gavai and Surya Kant during the brief hearing on the matter were surprised by the absence of any senior counsel from the Centre to make submissions on this issue. "Where are the Union lawyers...we need to settle this at the earliest," the Chief Justice inquired a few times, but there was no response for a while. Later the counsel informed the court the senior lawyer concerned is not available. Then, the bench posted the matter after two weeks.

In February 2019, the Supreme Court delivered its verdict on six contentious issues on the division of powers between the Delhi government and the Centre represented by Lt Governor (LG). The Delhi government was given powers in three area -- Appointment of special public prosecutors or law officers; fixing land revenue rate, which was earlier with the LG; and power to appoint or deal with the electricity commission or board.

The Centre was handed over Delhi Anti Corruption Branch (ACB), and the Centre has the power to appoint Enquiry Commission. The undecided issue, which was referred to a larger bench, was control over service matters involving transfers and posting of officers.

Viswanathan vehemently contended before the three-judge bench, "Today, I cannot transfer officer as per expertise, for example an officer having expertise and practical exposure cannot be transferred to the department concerned. I also cannot set up cadre and services (which affects streamlining good governance)." Viswanathan also cited the difference of opinion in the two-judge division bench, comprising Justice A.K. Sikri and Justice Ashok Bhushan, and urged the top court to resolve this. Justice Sikri said transfer and posting of secretaries and heads of departments can be done by the LG, while in case of officer of Delhi, Andaman and Nicobar Islands Civil Service (DANICS) and Delhi, Andaman and Nicobar Islands Police Service (DANIPS), the council of ministers will send the file to the LG.

Justice Bhushan, however, differed with this opinion, and said under the law, the Delhi government has no power to exercise control over services. Since this issue is undecided, Delhi will go to the polls without fixing a crucial element to streamline good governance in the national capital.

(Sumit Saxena can be contacted at sumit.s@ians.in)

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