Debate surrounding statehood for Delhi?

Benedict Anderson in his book “Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism” defines the state as an imagined community that is both inherently limited and sovereign. Complete statehood for Delhi is one of the promises made by Delhi’s Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s party AAP in the election manifesto, much like its predecessor Congress. However the question arises, given Delhi’s dependence on the Centre, is the demand for statehood justified and if so, is it constitutionally possible.

According to article 239 AA, Delhi which is labelled as a Union Territory is renamed as the National Capital Territory. The article bestows on Delhi the power to legislate on all subjects in the state list subject to the “Parliament’s will to legislate” as explained in article 239 AA 3(b) and 239 AA3(c), which goes on to add that any law made repugnant to any provision of a law made by Parliament shall be deemed void unless it obtains Presidents approval. Furthermore, Delhi is denied powers of items 1, 2 and 18 of the state list in the Schedule 7 which means loss of control over Public order, police and land. Hence the article is the first bone of contention that adds complexities to Delhi’s status as neither a state nor a Union Territory.

Now, coming to the debate about whether the demand is justified, the first challenge is granting statehood to Delhi and compromising on the security of the Parliament, international embassies and other national institutions. Furthermore, this can create an embarrassing position if there is a conflict of opinion between the Central government and the state government of Delhi, the Capital of the nation state of India. Imagine Chief Minister Arwind Kejriwal sitting on a Dharna and refusing to host Barack Obama. Another challenge is Delhi’s financial dependence on the Central government. In 2013, Delhi was allocated 1143 crores as a Union territory, which is around a 243 crore hike in Budget allocation. If Delhi attains statehood, it would be entitled to only 10% of the total funding as per Gadgil-Mukherjee formula (1991) for devolution of central assistance for state plans. Arvind Kejriwal’s manifesto is already driven by subsidy politics, promise of cheap power and water. Most of the services that Delhi Government provides are either under Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) or at subsidy by the Centre’s assistance. How will statehood help Delhi in meeting the expenses of consumption of power and electricity which are constantly on an upward curve. A “sovereign” state should ideally not demand subsidy from home ministry but again, can Delhi bear the expenses given the lack of infrastructure and natural resources.

In a state centric formula, the objective question should be whether parting a piece of land will in any way enhance the survival or the security of the state. The answer to both these questions is No. The National Capital region has the National Capital Territory as its core. Chiselling out any one state with demarcated boundaries will lead to more challenges both in terms of land and infrastructure planning.

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