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Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 18, April 18, 2009

Track Record of the Shiela Dikshit Government in Delhi

Saturday 18 April 2009, by Suvrokamal Dutta


(The following article was written sometime back but could not be used earlier due to unavoidable reasons.)

The recent Delhi Assembly election results have proved as to who rules Delhi. Truly after the third successive victory Shiela Dikshit has proved that she is the unchallenged empress of Delhi no matter how serious the challenges are from her political foes. Shiela Dikshit has proved it once again that the coveted throne of Delhi will remain with her again for at least for five years more and she has also made it very clear to her foes that, when challenged, she also knows how to successfully defend the Delhi crown.

The question might arise as to what makes the Chief Minister of Delhi so popular among the common masses. A lot has got to do with her personality and her hard work and no-nonsense style of functioning. In the last ten years of her rule Delhi has achieved milestones in several sectors. Looking at it sector-wise one can realise it well. Her major feat has been in the public transport sector. The Chief Minister herself says that the biggest achievement of her government has been to give clean air for the people of Delhi to breathe. This is factually true. The air today in Delhi is clean and there is greenery all around. Conversion of 65,000 vehicles to the CNG (Compressed Natural Gas) mode has made Delhi home to the maximum number of vehicles running on green fuel in any city in the world. The success of the Delhi Government was recognised the world over. Lately Delhi got the clean city award in America. If one has to compare the pollution level in the air of Delhi ten years back with that of now, it has come down by almost 200 per cent which is a huge achievement for any government. One still remembers when CNG was introduced it was the very BJP under Madan Lal Khurana that had taken to the streets of Delhi protesting the move; today it is the same BJP which sings laurels for CNG. It is this far-sightedness of Shiela Dikshit that makes her stand so tall in Delhi politics.

Another sphere where the Chief Minister has succeeded is in the area of road transport network. Delhi today has around 69 flyovers with several more in the pipeline. The road situation in Delhi will no doubt improve in the coming days. Again, many new bridges have been built over the river Yamuna; the recent one under construction over Wazirabad would be the largest signature bridge in the world. These are no mean achievements of the Shiela Government.

Introduction of BRT as a pilot scheme was no doubt an innovative project but things have gone chaotic for the BRT due to the lack of proper planning and mismanagement. The concept is, of course, a new and good one but proper planning and proper management needs to be there for its success. The new government is planning at least three more new BRTs for Delhi but then it has to move very cautiously on the issue as the present BRT has created a lot of woes for the general public. Its existing loopholes need to be addressed first. Recent surveys by television channels during the Assembly elections in Delhi have shown that the people in Delhi are not against the idea of BRT which they feel is a good concept but want its deficiencies to be tackled. The BJP’s chief ministerial candidate in the recent elections and the main Opposition party tried to use the woes of the BRT to the maximum to garner political mileage out of these but utterly failed in that endeavour. The argument given by the BJP of breaking the BRT if it came to power or of doing a review of it did not go down well with the people of Delhi as it was felt that the BJP was against development; moreover, the money of Rs 120 crores which was used for constructing the BRT was taxpayers’ money after all. It is true that things have gone wrong with the BRT but at least the present Chief Minister has the vision of trying something unique and scientific and this gives her an edge over the BJP, which seems to be visionless when it comes to the question of developmental issues in Delhi.

The metro rail has been a unique achievement of the Shiela Dikshit Government. It’s true, the whole concept of metro rail was started by the BJP Government of Madan Lal Khurana and by the NDA Government of Vajpayee. However, the way it was carried forward by the UPA Government and by the Shiela Dikshit administration once again attests to the CM’s foresight. The fact is that she understood that metro is the need of the hour for Delhi—she not only carried the project forward but also made it a point to extend it further and by 2020 AD the master plan of Delhi is trying to get the whole of the NCR of Delhi connected by metro rail which would definitely make Delhi a world-class city. Construction of the Delhi metro rail has started on a war footing and most of the projects of the different phases are getting completed before time or within the deadline.

Though the Shiela Dikshit Government has made attempts on the electricity and power front, so far success has been limited in this area. The power distribution system has been privatised and the power situation has improved dramatically. However, the consumption (demand) level is more than the supply which makes Delhi reel under power cuts in peak hours in the hot summer months. But compared to eight to 10 hours of power cuts 15 years back the power cuts in Delhi today are generally between two-to-four hours, which is a remarkable improvement. Though power theft has been greatly reduced, there is still scope for improvement. Today there is a three-tier system to deal with power shortages. However, the biggest problem on the power front in Delhi is with the discom and its faulty fast power meters, which the Chief Minister has promised to eradicate as soon as possible. The fact that the Chief Minister has tried her best on the power front also gave her an edge over her opponents in the recent Assembly elections.

Another unique move of the Delhi Government under Sheila Dikshit has been the Bhagidari scheme. With this scheme the government encouraged people’s participation in government projects. This scheme was adopted in the true spirit from the teachings of Gandhiji and Nehruji. Planting trees along the banks of the Yamuna and removal of garbage from the river initially started with government officials under the scheme but soon people belonging to all walks of life from in and around Delhi voluntarily came forward to work and take part in the Bhagidari project. Today the success rate of the project is quite high. Currently Delhi has almost around 15 per cent of its total area brought under the green cover and forests, and Bhagidari has been an outstanding system of achieving this. Hopefully within another couple of years Delhi would have around 20 per cent of its total land holdings under the green belt.

There are three vital areas where the Chief Minister’s team has to work round the clock. One relates to Yamuna cleaning. Of course, the Yamuna Action Plan is under the Urban Development Ministry of the Government of India and the Delhi Government doesn’t have much say there. The Delhi Government has a department for cleaning the Yamuna. And the Shiela Dikshit Government had started Shram Daan (voluntary work) for the removal of garbage from the river; however, little has been done so far. The Chief Minister herself accepts that her biggest regret is that she hasn’t been able to do much for the river. But cleaning of the river should not be a major problem for her as there is a Supreme Court deadline now for cleaning the river and the Congress enjoys power both in Delhi as well as at the Centre.

The second major area of concern is the law and order situation in Delhi. It is true that law and order in Delhi has improved but a lot more needs to done on this front. Maintenance of domestic law and order has perhaps been the biggest challenge of the Shiela Dikshit Government so far and her track record hasn’t been up to the mark as yet. Of course, the national security of Delhi is under the Central Government but then there is no escape route for Shiela Dikshit by throwing the ball in the Centre’s court.

There are several loopholes in the domestic side too which need to be addressed urgently. Providing basic and clean drinking water and uninterrupted supply is a major concern for ordinary folks in Delhi, and this is another area which needs immediate attention.

For making Delhi a truly international city by the Commonwealth Games in 2010 the above three major concerns need to be addressed soon. One is the cleaning of Yamuna; two, law and order; three, basic drinking water. The Shiela Dikshit Government cannot be complacent on these issues. Construction of the Commonwealth Games Village is not enough; the basic necessities must be ensured forthwith.

The people of Delhi have voted Shiela Dikshit back to power because of her towering personality and quality of work, her development oriented and statesmanlike approach, due to her easy availability and access. Before her the 84-year-old veteran of the BJP, Vijay Kumar Malhotra, was no match in the Assembly elections. Yet it needs to be added that she should not take the mandate for granted; after all, in a democracy it is the people who ultimately matter and the politicians must always be vigilant in meeting the people’s needs and requirements through selfless service.

The writer is a renowned economic expert and a political critic.

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