The Aam Aadmi Party’s obsession with full statehood for Delhi can harm the well-being of its citizens. Arvind Kejriwal ought to reflect on how this obsession can actually dwarf the space he needs for action. The AAP’s manifesto for the 2019 general elections reiterates its “sole objective” of “making Delhi a full state”.
The 35-page document seeks to buttress the point with fallacious arguments, even citing specious instances as of the Vatican and universities in America. Somewhat of a diarchy, a dual centre of power is not unique for Delhi. Most metropolitan capital cities across the world have their own unique governance systems.
Explaining how the multiplicity of authority impeded implementation of Delhi’s master plan and policy, the former mayor of Madrid’s central district now at Marron Institute of Urban Management, Pedro B Oritz said that “a metropolis needs a federal system”. Sharing a similar view at the recent conclave on ‘Re-inventing Delhi’ on Delhi’s 2041Master Plan, Sebastien Maire, chief resilience officer of Paris, held that “a central agency” is well placed to resolve “the biggest challenge of coordination among multiple stakeholders”.
Clearly, with a plethora of elected and other agencies, with little coordination, the administrative structure for Delhi is in need of a drastic revamp. In addition to 272 councillors in three municipalities, 70 MLAs in the NCT government, 7 MPs, there is the New Delhi Municipal Council for the cloistered Lutyens’ zone, and the Cantonment Board, let alone the Central government which controls its land and policing.
Kejriwal has never made a serious attempt to wrest control of MCDs which deal with the salient issues of concern to citizens. Both the Congress and the BJP being are guilty of promising full statehood for Delhi in their election manifestos. They have, however, reversed the stand when in power at the Centre. The issue has often been debated and analysed. For example, the Supreme Court recently underlined the unique nature of the role assigned to the Lieutenant- Governor, advising the Chief Minister and the LG “for a harmonious working relationship” to serve the people. Well known for his short fuse, Kejriwal termed the verdict by the apex court as “anti-Constitution” and “anti-democracy”.
Worse still, one of his senior colleagues contemptuously termed it a nayab tehsildar court. Betraying ignorance of the gigantic challenges that Delhi faces, the better part of the AAP’s 2019 manifesto is old wine in old bottle ~ free supply of water, much cheaper electricity, houses to all middle class people. There are undesirable, if not irresponsible, promises with the potential to damage primary and higher education. (“We will build so many colleges and universities that even those with 60 per cent will get seats”.) Instead of ferreting out anachronistic populist platitudes, its leadership needed to indicate its serious intent of collating the best practices for devising a sustainable framework conducive to re-building the metropolis with a happy blend of its pristine heritage with rising aspirations of New India, in concert with the Centre and the neighbouring states.
Kejriwal ignored the former three-term NCT chief minister Shiela Dikshit’s advice that, notwithstanding Delhi’s powers being limited due to its special status as a Union Territory, Delhi state can indeed do a lot as her government successfully operated within the limited jurisdiction. He had no qualms in adding, “Still in the last four years we have done more work than her government did in 15 years”!
Which magic did the humble jhadoo wield to clear the Augean stables? The hyperbolic claim was in tune with the general tenor of AAP’s self-delusion. Consider his glib claim: “India is known because of the Delhi model of governance”, and his thunder at AAP’s 6th Foundation Day, “The revolution in health and education witnessed in last three and a half years in Delhi is being talked about internationally”! Isn’t it a stark instance of inflated amour-propre; Kejriwal couldn’t be unaware of the perils of narcissism.
First, AAP needs to assess how much Delhi, by virtue of being the capital city, benefits from a plethora of central government- aided facilities ~ educational, medical, infrastructural, fiscal. Instead, AAP encourages parochialism. It believes that vacancies in the Delhi government are “scooped up by people from outside”, and that students from other cities and states are cornering all available seats in colleges and universities.
Secondly, like China with three major urban clusters ~ along the Pearl River, Yangtze River, and the Beijing- Tianjin corridor ~ each with 50 million people or more, Delhi needs to calibrate its plans and prospects in the context of the National Capital Region (NCR). Delhi faces huge problems. It may boast an annual per capita income of Rs 3.29 lakh (2017-18), almost thrice that of the whole country’ equally it has almost 250,000 homeless people, 49 per cent of its population in slums and unauthorised colonies.
With people pouring into the city and cars pouring onto the roads, the outlook for the environment is grim. Numerous encroachments have damaged the green belt and lucrative real enterprises dot the landscape. The number of jhuggis shot up from 12,000 in 1951 to half a million now. It has some 7.5 million registered vehicles. If population and disease don’t kill, the capital’s roads do. Migrants represented 45 per cent of the overall addition to city’s population in 2011, up from a share of 40 per cent in 2001, which is projected by MPD-2021 to rise to 50 per cent in 2021.
Whereas the AAP-ruled 1,483 sq km National Capital Territory (NCT) around Delhi as its core is estimated by the Master Plan to be home to 23 million by 2021, NCR, extending over 55,098 sq km, includes 23 districts from three neighbouring states, is projected to accommodate 64m by 2021, up from 46m (Census 2011).
It is axiomatic that NCR should be treated as a Common Economic Zone, with rationalized inter-state tax structure, uniform financial/banking services, telecom facilities and power supply, integrated education policy, health policy, rail and road transport network, water supply and drainage system. AAP appears justified in claiming now that it broke “the spine of corruption in Delhi” in its initial 49-day government. It needs to introspect why the aura evaporated so soon.
Its biggest positive contribution was before it first came to power in Delhi. With avowed unconventional politics, its astonishing debut generated a wave of optimism, a hope to cleanse the country’s debauched politics. It needs to ponder why what looked like a green oasis in political wilderness soon proved to be a mirage. Born with a birthmark of perilously populist promises of freebies, AAP now finds itself unable to transform its praxis from protest to responsible governance.
From Jantar Mantar to Sachivalaya is a long journey which it is unable to comprehend, much less complete. Kejriwal needs to heed the wisdom of the adage ~ “It’s only a bad worker who quarrels with his tools”. There is a lot that needs to be done, and can well be done within the limitation of powers available to the NCT government. Why must he let an impression persist that, for him, it has to be the AAP way or no way?
(The writer is Senior Fellow, Asian Institute of Transport Development, and former CMD, Container Corporation of India)