India's top court upholds power of Delhi opposition chief Arvind Kejriwal in setback for PM Modi

Arvind Kejriwal, chief of the Aam Aadmi Party, addresses his supporters at an event in New Delhi, on Feb 14, 2015.
Arvind Kejriwal, chief of the Aam Aadmi Party, addresses his supporters at an event in New Delhi, on Feb 14, 2015. PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW DELHI (REUTERS) - India's Supreme Court upheld the powers of the chief minister of Delhi on Wednesday (July 4) in a win for his political party embroiled in a protracted fight with Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government that has compounded the capital city's problems.

Under India's political system, Delhi has a unique position in which the federal government controls the state police and oversees land issues while the local government is in charge of the general upkeep of the capital of some 19 million people.

But Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal's Aam Aadmi Party has sought more powers and operational autonomy to govern the city ever since it beat Mr Modi's party in a stunning election upset in the capital three years ago.

It accused Mr Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party of trying to interfere in Delhi's governance through the federally-appointed Lieutenant Governor.

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court said the real power lies with the elected government of Delhi and that the Lieutenant Governor, who acts as the representative of the federal government, cannot be making decisions and must be working harmoniously with the state.

"Lieutenant Governor cannot act independently unless where the Constitution allows. L-G cannot be an obstructionist, he must take advice from the Council of Ministers," India's Chief Justice Dipak Misra said.

Delhi is one of the world's most polluted cities and authorities have struggled to reduce the risk to residents each winter when the smog gets worse. The city, which draws tens of thousands of migrants from neighbouring states, also has high crime rates, especially against women.

The local government and Mr Modi's administration have traded blame for Delhi's mounting problems. Mr Kejriwal says he needs authority over the police to be able to maintain law and order.

He said on Twitter the court verdict was "a big victory for the people of Delhi" and a "big victory for democracy".

"If Modi government had not withdrawn the powers of elected government through illegal orders, precious three years would have been saved," Mr Kejriwal said on Twitter.

The federal government issued new rules in 2015 saying the Lieutenant Governor had authority over services as well, apart from public order, police and land, and that he may consult the chief minister whenever he thought it was necessary for issues regarding services.

"Don't understand how Delhi government is claiming this to be a victory? Their main plank was that this is a state, whereas the court has unequivocally said it's not a state," BJP spokesman Nalin Kohli said.