OffStumped For All Things Right of Center, Bringing a Right of Centre Reality Check to Indian Politics, News Media Reporting and Opinion through Blogs and Podcasts.

 A meeting of the Group of Ministers (GoM) has decided that the Supreme Court’s order on sealing would be implemented. The Supreme Court had refused to grant any relief to traders from the sealing drive in the Capital. In all 44,000 traders had filed an affidavit giving undertakings to stop the misuse of premises in residential areas for commercial activities. But in a strongly worded statement, the SC has directed the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) to resume sealing of illegal commercial premises. The apex court has ordered the MCD to use police or other kinds of force, if necessary, to carry out the drive. It also came down heavily on the government officials for not implementing its orders. President of Confederation of All India Traders Praveen Khandelwal has urged the government not to drag the case any further and find a solution to the crisis by ammending the Constitution. Congress leaders have come out in support of the traders saying their livelihood must not be snatched away. BJP has said the decision will lead to unrest in Delhi and has blamed the Congress for the state of affairs. Resident Welfare Associations, who have been opposed to commercialisation of residential areas, have welcomed the Supreme Court’s decision.

The fights in the streets of Delhi raise 3 important questions about the kind of democracy we want to be ?

1. Do we want to be a Democracy where Law Enforcement is compromised to appease special interests ?

2. Do we want to be a Democracy where the Governments blissfully abandaon their duty and when compelled to act by the courts resort to legislative workarounds ?

3. Do we want to be a Democracy where the Constitution is rendered irrelvant via a blank cheque in the form of the 9th schedule to allow the politicians to pander to any group they want to while being accountable to none ?

The events in Delhi over the last many months and specifically the conduct of the Congress and the BJP leads Offstumped to believe that the answer to all of the above is resounding YES.

The current political debate in Delhi is not unlike the earlier during the 90s on court mandate adoption of Compressed Natural Gas, CNG and before that on unleaded petrol. 

What we have here is Executive delinquency creating the problem, Judicial Activism attempting to fill the vaccum which eventually leads to grudging adoption or Legislative perversion as we are now seeing with the attempts to ammend the Constitution and to take refuge in the 9th schedule to avoid Judicial Scrutiny.

The hallmark of the Manmohan Singh Government has been Executive Delinquency highlighted by an unusually long list of empowered Group of Ministers (GoM). On every political hot potato, Manmohan Singh has come across an indecisive Prime Minister incapable of taking a firm stance and selling it politically within his Government and beyond. The bureuacrat in him has time and again taken recourse to constituting a GoM and then allowing the issue to fester till either the courts or overwhelming public opinion swings the issue one way or the other, thus sparing the Prime Minister from taking a firm stance.

Offstumped takes a critical look at the Executive Delinquency of the Manmohan Singh Government leading up to the Delhi sealing issue.

First a look at how many GoMs the Manmohan Singh cabinet had constituted.

Dec 2004 – eGoM on Dabhol Fiasco, eGoM on Patents Act, eGoM on integrated relife post Tsunami

Jan 2005 – eGoM on Airport Modernization, eGoM on FDI, GoM on SEZ bill, GoM on Commonwealth Games

Feb 2005 – GoM  on Naga Talks, GoM on food safety bill, GoM on tourism for Visa on arrival, GoM on reservations in private sector

March 2005 – GoM on disaster management, GoM on center state relations,

April 2005 – GoM on Administrative Reforms, GoM on i-cards

May 2005 – GoM on FDI in print media, GoM on Natural Gas Pricing, GoM on NTC restructuring

Jun 2005 – GoM on celebrating 1857 revolt (first war of indian independence)

Jul 2005 – GoM on Purchase Preference Policy for Central PSUs, GoM on uplinking policy, GoM on education cess, GoM on replacement for IMDT after the Supreme Court struck it down as illegal in Assam

Aug 2005 – GoM on women’s reservation bill, GoM on PSU autonomy, eGoM on Indian Airlines Fleet expansion to conduct final round of price negotiations

Sep 2005 – GoM on how far Delhi Metro should run

Oct 2005 – GoM on community radio expansion, GoM on National Urban Renewal Mission, NURM, GoM on WTO

Jan 2006 – GoM on spectrum allocation

Apr 2006 – GoM on Prasar Bharati, GoM on Narmada issue

July  2006 – GoM on freight corridors, GoM on bill to enable foreign universities to setup campuses,

And so on the story goes with a whopping 40 GoMs including the one dealing with the issue of sealing unauthorized businesses operating in violation of zoning laws in Delhi. It must also be noted that Pranab Mukherjee chairs most of the GoMs which leads one to question what stellar contributions he managed while in the Defence Ministry, juggling as he was the GoM musical chairs. We are now told that he has 9 bureuacrats (Officers on Special Duty, OSD) to manage his GoMs. So in effect the GoMs are not exactly Groups of Ministers working on issues, but Groups of Bureuacrats on special duty, having long abandoned what was supposed to be their primary duty. Given the number of GoMs and the range of issues from buying aeroplanes to giving permission to setup private universities, it makes one wonder what purpose Cabinet Portfolios serve any more. Manmohan Singh might as well strip all his Ministers of their portfolios and instead maintain a rotating pool of Ministers who will get assigned to GoMs in a round robin fashion.

The Executive Delinquency of the Manmohan Singh Government on key issues is appalling. The result of this delinquency is another GoM on the Delhi sealing issue chaired by Shivraj Patil which has spent more time in pandering to the political pressure from the Traders and entertaining speculation on constitutional ammendments and ninth schedule than in politically resolving the issue outside of the courts. After all why resort to the GoM mechanism on politically hot button issues. It is to build that political consensus. If the GoM rather than build that political consensus on what is essentially a matter for the Executive to resolve and instead spend its time challenging the courts, the constitution and the Judiciary are both undermined by drawing them into an unseemly emotional debate bereft of reason.

Offstumped Bottomline: The Delhi sealing issue is a litmus test for how the Congress and BJP propose to shape Indian Democracy in the 21st century. Relenting to political pressure and ammending the Constitution would be a disgrace. Will they show the spine and the fortitude to let the citizens of Delhi decide what kind of Urban Quality of Life they would like or will they pander to pressure groups and undermine the courts and the constitution ?

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