SC refers Delhi plea on jurisdiction back to HC

The Supreme Court on Friday declined the Arvind Kejriwal-led Delhi government's plea to direct the Delhi High Court not to pronounce judgment on a clutch of petitions on disputes between the state administration and the Union government over jurisdiction.

A bench headed by Chief Justice T S Thakur asked, "How can a high court be restrained from pronouncing its judgment? Even if it delivers a judgment, it would still be open for the petitioner to challenge it in the Supreme Court. All issues can be raised in the appeal before the SC."

The Kejriwal government had said the HC did not have jurisdiction to adjudicate a dispute between a state and the Centre, and the matter fell squarely within the SC's purview.

The Aam Admi Party government told the SC that the Centre had virtually paralysed its functioning and governance in the absence of clarity in the distribution of legislative powers between Delhi and the Centre under Article 239AA of the Constitution.

"Because of lack of clarity, disputes have arisen between Delhi government and Union government. This has led to difficulties in day-today activities and administration of Delhi government inasmuch as every decision taken by it is being questioned on the ground that the lieutenant governor has power to take decisions in all matters relating to the Delhi government," the AAP government said.

Delhi's counsel Indira Jaising said numerous petitions had been filed by both sides in the Delhi HC, which on 24 May reserved its verdict on the AAP government's application seeking stay of all pending proceedings on this issue.

The AAP government said the HC had no jurisdiction to deal with inter-government disputes, even if the parties consented to its adjudication. Jaising said inter-government issues could be adjudicated only by the SC, adding that all proceedings before the HC, including the impending pronouncement of judgment on stay as well as merits of the issue, should be kept in abeyance.

Jaising alleged that the HC had not taken into account the preliminary objections raised by the AAP government, and requested the SC bench of CJI Thakur and Justices A M Khanwilkar and Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud to restrain the HC from pronouncing its verdict.

''Final judgment of the HC is subject to an appeal before the SC. Let the HC decide the matter. We are not going to stay pronouncement of the judgment by the HC," the bench said despite Jaising persisting with her argument that a final judgment on this issue would prejudice the merits of the Delhi government's case.

Finding the bench unmoved, Jaising requested listing the matter for hearing on Monday and told the court that merits of the issue would be addressed by senior advocate K K Venugopal, who was also present. The bench agreed and listed the matter for Monday.

The Delhi government in its special leave petition, filed through advocate Chirag M Shroff, said, "The HC by reserving judgment on the application for stay of the proceedings as also simultaneously reserving judgment on merits of the petitions amounts to a refusal of stay of proceedings, thereby seriously jeopardizing the rights of the petitioner to a determination of the issues in the suit filed before the SC raising issues of federal nature.

"The HC has no jurisdiction to hear the writ petitions, the dispute being essentially one between a state on the one hand and the Union of India on the other hand. The exclusive jurisdiction over the present petition rests with the Supreme Court under Article 131of the Constitution."