Centre vs Delhi: SC refers the issue of control over services to constitution bench

The Supreme Court on Friday referred to a constitution bench the power tussle between the Centre and the Delhi government in connection with control over the administrative services.

A bench headed by Chief Justice N.V. Ramana clarified that the issue is only related to services, and it will be adjudicated by the constitution bench. The top court listed the matter for hearing before a 5-judge bench on May 11 for arguments who should control the services.

In 2018, a constitution bench had ruled that police, land and public order are the domain of the Centre, and the rest is under the Delhi government.

The Centre had moved an application seeking to refer the matter to a constitution bench for a holistic interpretation of Article 239AA of the Constitution.

“The applicant submits issues involve a substantial question of law requiring interpretation of a provision of the Constitution and the key issues involved in the present matter cannot be determined unless the same is decided by a constitution bench in terms of Article 145 (3) of the Constitution,” said the Centre’s application.

Senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, representing the Delhi government, had submitted that once a constitution bench decides the matter, there is no point in referring back to it.

Singhvi insisted that every slightest thing pointed out cannot be referred to the larger bench. The top court said the issue is there were two parts of constitution provision, the problem arises when they refer to a provision but there’s no conclusion, in that scenario it becomes a necessity to refer the matter to a larger bench.

Singhvi replied that it is not necessary to refer the issue to a larger bench and the present three-judge bench can also decide it.

The bench queried, “what prejudice will be caused…if referred?” Singhvi said the “question is why should it be referred?”

He added that a constitution bench reference arising from another constitution bench is rare. He said, “I am not disputing your lordships’ power to refer it…”

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta submitted that there was a finding that there’s been no consideration and judges asked the matter to be referred. Mehta pressed that this matter needs to be referred to a larger bench.

During the hearing, the bench noted that if a constitution bench is constituted, it would want the hearing to conclude by May 15. Both sides agreed that hearing in the matter can be concluded before the summer vacation commences.

The top court noted that it appears that the 5-judge bench had decided all issues of dispute between the Centre and the Delhi government, except the services. The top court noted this while pronouncing the order on Friday.

On April 28, after a detailed hearing in the matter, the top court reserved its order on the Centre’s plea to refer its dispute with the Delhi government — on the transfer and posting of officers in the national capital — to a five-judge constitution bench.

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