New Delhi constituency, which has over 16.17 lakh voters, comprises areas where many of city’s wealthiest and most powerful people live. The constituency is set to witness a triangular contest between Aam Aadmi Party’s Brijesh Goyal, Bharatiya Janata Party’s Meenakshi Lekhi and the Congress party candidate Ajay Maken.

New Delhi constituency has well-known markets like Connaught Place, Khan Market, South Extension, Green Park, Sarojini Nagar, Defence Colony and Hauz Khas. There are four civic bodies which provide services to the areas falling in this elite constituency ~ the New Delhi Municipal Council, the South Delhi Municipal Corporation, the North MCD and the Delhi Cantonment Board. The sealing drive in the national capital, which reportedly affected the lives of thousands of traders, remains one of the major issues in New Delhi constituency, according to many a trader.

New Delhi along with the other six constituencies in the Capital will go to polls on 12 May. Meenakshi Lekhi, fighting to retain her seat, claims that basic civic issues like water, electricity and the condition of roads have been “taken care of well” in most of the areas. Hence, they are not among the major issues, she explains, obviously acknowledging that sealing could be a major issue.

Lekhi has alleged that “Ajay Maken was the Urban Development Minister when the sealing problem emerged in 2008. He got changes introduced in Delhi’s Master Plan, which could not stop sealing. He is the person responsible for sealing in the first place.” However, according to Ajay Maken: “Three years from 2013 to 2015 were aberrations because these three elections were held in the backdrop of the Anna Hazare movement and people had hopes from both Narendra Modi and Arvind Kejriwal , but their hopes have been dashed.”

AAP candidate Brijesh Goyal has, meanwhile, remarked: “I challenge Lekhi to break her silence on how her government at the Centre ruined traders of several prominent markets in New Delhi constituency due to brutal and mindless sealing of shops and commercial establishments. I also challenge Lekhi to make her roadmap public on how these shops can be de-sealed.”

With AAP’s focus on full statehood for Delhi, Goyal believes that if his party wins all the seven seats in Delhi, “nothing can come in the way of it attaining full statehood, which will lead to overall improvement in the quality of life in the Capital.”

In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Lekhi as a debutante defeated AAP’s Ashish Khetan by 1,62,708 votes by securing 5,18,001 votes. She got 46.73 per cent votes whereas AAP’s vote share was 29.96 per cent and the Congress merely polled 18.85 per cent votes.

It may be mentioned that the sealing drive, launched in December 2017 under a Supreme Court-monitored committee, led to sealing of over 10,000 commercial establishments though it was basically aimed at ending alleged violations of building by-laws by traders. It provided opposition politicians an opportunity to convince the business community that the NDA government and the BJP controlled municipal corporations were ignoring the trading community’s interests.

Violations of building bylaws got highlighted after a fire broke out in a Karol Bagh hotel Arpit Palace on 12 February 2019, resulting in the loss of 17 lives. The incident made the style of functioning of the BJP-controlled civic bodies come under scanner.

Naveen Kumar, a trader in Karol Bagh, said: “People will punish those who looked the other way when by-laws were being violated with impunity.” Be that as it may, there are other issues which people in the constituency talk about ~better roads, water supply and sewer lines in slums and other underdeveloped areas in addition to concern over felling of trees to implement a redevelopment project.

Social activist Prashant Kumar questions the idea behind the redevelopment of seven areas ~ Nauroji Nagar, Netaji Nagar, Sarojini Nagar, Mohammadpur, Sriniwaspuri, Kasturba Nagar and Thyagaraj Nagar ~ where over 14,000 trees were to be felled out of the existing 21,040 as part of the redevelopment scheme. He alluded to Delhi’ites love for trees by recalling an event in which people hugged trees like they did during the Chipko movement led by Sunderlal Bahuguna in the hills.

The government had tried to explain that the redevelopment scheme was in the larger interest of the city and the loss of the green cover would be recovered through plantation of trees on a massive scale, but that did not go down well with the people, Naveen Sharma, a resident of Sarojini Nagar said.

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