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In fresh Kejriwal-Baijal row, Delhi govt & L-G in tussle over lawyers in farmers’ protest cases

The tussle comes a year after a similar conflict erupted over choice of lawyers who would fight cases pertaining to February 2020 communal violence in Delhi.

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New Delhi: The Aam Aadmi Party-led Delhi government and Lieutenant Governor (L-G) Anil Baijal are once again at odds over the selection of special public prosecutors — this time, with respect to cases stemming from the farmers’ protest, including the 26 January violence.

Last week, Baijal “rejected” the AAP government’s choice of lawyers, Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia told the media in a virtual conference Saturday. 

Sisodia said the L-G has invoked special powers granted under the Constitution to refer the matter to the President. In the interim, he added, Baijal had approved a panel of 11 law officers selected by Delhi Police to argue the matter. 

“What is the need of an elected dispensation if everything has to be done through the Centre via L-G?” Sisodia said. Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal also took to Twitter to criticise the decision, saying such “interference was an insult to the people” of Delhi. 

Reached for a response, the L-G’s office refused to comment but confirmed that a file on the matter has been sent to the President. Sources in the L-G’s office said the decision was taken in the absence of a consensus between the Kejriwal government and the L-G on the lawyers by Delhi Police. 

Rashtrapati Bhavan press secretary Ajay Singh said: “Only the personal cell of the President can confirm if they’ve received the file sent by the Delhi L-G.” Since the entire team is in Jammu and Kashmir for a tour, he added, the same could only be confirmed after 28 July. This report will be updated as and when a comment in this regard is received. 

The farmers’ protest cases pertain to the ongoing agitation against the new farm laws, including those filed in connection with the violence that broke out in Delhi during the 26 January tractor rally, a senior Delhi government official told ThePrint.

Delhi Police have registered 45 FIRs in the matter.

The tussle between the Delhi government and the L-G, a representative of the central government, is the latest in a years-old conflict centred on the distribution of powers in the national capital, a Union territory that also has an elected government and assembly. 

The tussle, which has also reached courts, has only intensified since the amended Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi Act was passed by Parliament and notified this April, making it mandatory for the elected government to seek the opinion of the L-G before any executive decision.  

On 17 July this year, Sisodia wrote a letter to the L-G, accusing him of taking decisions on matters under the elected government, and bypassing ministers to hold meetings with UT officials. The L-G shot back on 22 July with another letter, accessed by ThePrint, saying “the insinuations and statements… are devoid of any merit and without any evidence”.

The row over the farmers’ protest case comes exactly a year after a similar conflict erupted over the choice of lawyers who would fight cases pertaining to the communal violence that broke out in the capital last February. 

In July 2020, the L-G overturned the Arvind Kejriwal government’s choice of lawyers, citing a constitutional provision that binds the elected administration to follow the L-G’s orders. He issued orders to endorse the panel chosen by Delhi Police instead of the team selected by the Home Department of the Delhi government.

Also Read: Ex-civil servants support bill on Delhi L-G powers even as AAP calls it Centre’s ploy

What legal experts say

Speaking to ThePrint, legal experts suggested that the amended GNCTD Act may be at the heart of the dispute, adding that another round of courts may be in the offing to settle the matter.

“This back-and-forth has been on for a while due to what seems like political enmity and perhaps this matter about which set of lawyers will represent Delhi in legal matters will have to be settled by court,” said senior advocate Sanjay Hegde.

Senior advocate Rahul Mehra, a former legal counsel who represented the Delhi government in court, said prosecution lawyers cannot be selected by the investigating agency as it defeats the purpose of a fair and just trial.

“Under Section 24 (8) of the CrPC, the Delhi L-G does not have independent decision-making powers and is bound to act on the advice of the Council of Ministers, except where he differs and decides to refer an issue of the rarest kind to the Hon’ble President,” Mehra told ThePrint.

The Supreme Court, he noted, ruled this in July 2018. “For reasons best known to the L-G, this still isn’t being followed. It is not only legally and constitutionally but also ethically and principally unfair,” he added.

Another senior lawyer who didn’t wish to be named said the CrPC authorised the state/UT government to appoint lawyers. “But with the recent notification designating L-G as the executive head, this power appears to have got transferred to him,” the lawyer added. 

“This is likely to give rise to another round of litigation in the courts, seeking more clarity on the issue,” the lawyer said. 

With inputs from Bhadra Sinha

(Edited by Sunanda Ranjan)

Also Read: All about the amended NCT of Delhi bill that’s triggered a new AAP vs Central govt tussle


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