BS. Vohra had high expectations of the Aam Aadmi Party when it came to power in Delhi six months ago. A representative of a residents’ welfare association, he thought the government would begin work in earnest to improve water supply, sanitation, roads and infrastructure.
Earlier, he and representatives of other associations used to meet district councillors to discuss various issues. With the AAP in power, they hoped, the associations would be roped in for their expertise. But, much to their dismay, it did not happen. In the past few months, nearly 8,000 registered bodies representing residents of Delhi were replaced by the mohalla sabhas (community meetings) of the AAP as grassroots bodies representing citizens. Issues regarding water supply, sanitation and roads remain as they were. Hope, says Vohra, is being eclipsed by a sense of negativity.
The home of Nidhi Seth, a corporate professional and resident of South Delhi, was twice broken in and ransacked in the past few months. The first time, the police dissuaded her from filing a complaint stating the quantum of valuables stolen, saying she would have to keep visiting courts. Instead, the police had her write “no valuables were taken away” on the promise of providing her security.
That, however, did not prevent the second break-in. The police took no action and told her to approach the Municipal Corporation of Delhi and the resident welfare association of which she was a member. She did, and even knocked on the doors of the MLA in her constituency, whose office pointed the finger back at the police. A frazzled Seth now feels afraid of living in her own home.
Autorickshaw drivers, one of the largest constituencies of the AAP, want to know what Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal is doing to keep the promises he had made to them. Sanjay Jha, an autorickshaw union representative, says the 200-plus designated parking stands the AAP had promised are yet to materialise. With the state government and the Centre increasing taxes, says driver Vijay Prakash Pandey, the price of autorickshaws has gone up by nearly Rs20,000. Drivers, who earn Rs200 to Rs300 a day on an average, are feeling the pinch. There are indications that the unions may join forces with Yogendra Yadav, who was expelled from the AAP in April.
Every segment of Delhi's society has a bitter AAP experience to share. After the government took oath in February this year, the Federation of Resident Doctors Association of Delhi (FORDA) went on a token strike to protest the situation in government hospitals—lack of staff and drinking water facilities, and frustrated patients turning their ire on doctors. Even though both the Centre and the state government promised them greater security, no action has been taken so far.
The AAP is losing its image as the harbinger of change. Taking a toll on governance is the tug-of-war between the state government and the Centre—over issues like control over Delhi Police, which is currently under the Union home ministry—and the fight between Kejriwal and Lieutenant Governor Najeeb Jung over key appointments in the state government and the change in land policy.
Are the lines blurred when it comes to the jurisdiction of the chief minister and the lieutenant governor? No, according to former chief minister Sheila Dikshit. “Their functions are well-marked. LG signs on all files; postings come under him and cadre of officers is with the home affairs ministry. The practice we had evolved was that you do it amicably,” she said. “If a police commissioner was appointed, the Delhi government would be in the know. If you don't understand the Constitution, there is bound to be chaos.”
A few months ago, Kejriwal launched a mega advertising campaign, imploring the Centre to “let them work”. The move was seen by the Congress as a waste of public money and by the BJP as “confrontationist”.
The proposed women’s rights bill is set to be the biggest bone of contention between Kejriwal and Jung. Through the bill, Kejriwal wants to empower the Delhi Commission for Women to formulate policies and redress grievances. But the state law ministry itself has said that a bill of such significance needs Parliament’s nod.
“The power to amend the Constitution lies with Parliament,” said BJP leader Nupur Sharma. “Kejriwal has time and again taken the law into his own hands, picking up matters to challenge the Centre. And because there is a lack of knowledge on part of the citizenry, he is able to create chaos. He wants a body to supervise the police when the police is not under their control. This is all being done to stay alive in the news, because he has learnt that any publicity is good for politics. The High Court had to intervene [on the issue of the government] spending on advertising campaigns. If they [the government] are so serious about their work, what stopped them from passing the Lokpal bill? What happened to CCTVs in buses?”
Dikshit said it was important for the Delhi government to work with what is under its purview. “For the past four to six months, widows haven't got their pensions or the MCD officials, their salaries. No employee can work without pay,” she said.
Sharma said the current division of powers between the Centre and the Delhi government was good. “A statehood status at a later date might be a good idea,” she said. State Congress chief Ajay Maken, too, said the present arrangement was best for Delhi. “Kejriwal has made huge promises to the people of Delhi and he can't fulfil them,” he said. “He is manufacturing crises to divert attention.”
According to Maken, governance has come to a standstill. “The growth of revenue from VAT [value added tax], which was 10.05 per cent earlier, has come down to 1.75 per cent in the past six months,” he said. “There is complete paralysis, with officers not signing files because they don't know who to obey. Kejriwal doubled the education budget, but how much has he spent? How many new schools have been started? The money to the public works department has been cut. After the rains, how will the roads be maintained? There is distrust between officers and MLAs. The latter's phones are tapped, so they won't talk.”
There is a feeling that Kejriwal does not understand the implications of securing full statehood for Delhi. “The Delhi Police’s annual budget is Rs5,200 crore, which is borne by the Centre. [If Delhi gets full statehood] the money would go out of the Delhi government's pockets. Delhi has five super-speciality hospitals apart from AIIMS. In no other state in the country does the Centre spend on public health.”
According to Congress leader Jairam Ramesh, Kejriwal’s attacks on the Union government are an alibi for not performing. “The MCD election would be his first electoral milestone as chief minister, if he gets it,” he said. “Eyes are also on Punjab, which goes to the polls at the same time. Punjab is ripe for plucking. There is a higher degree of disillusionment with the ruling party there, while the Congress is seen as bickering internally.”
AAP member Digant R. Kapoor alleged that the Union government was circumventing the Lok Sabha and interfering directly in matters under the purview of the state government. “The BJP is encroaching on the powers of the state government by appointing their own people to key positions,” he said. “They had no role to play in appointments to the Anti-Corruption Bureau. The lieutenant governor says all decisions have to go through him. What is the point of having an elected government in Delhi if he has all the power?”
What about Rs526 crore spent on advertising? “Look at it in context. There are campaigns like the one for Swacch Bharat. Our ad spend was 1 per cent of the total Delhi government budget—an acceptable quota and done lawfully.”
Action against corruption was a key plank of the AAP manifesto. But, with instances of bribing having gone down, the stakes have only increased. Take the case of Manish Walia (name changed), a businessman in North Delhi who has a monthly turnover of Rs1.5 crore. He has been running from pillar to post to get a VAT refund of nearly Rs1 crore. The delay is costing him Rs1lakh in interest every month. Earlier, bribing officials used to work, he says. But now, as corruption has become a high-risk proposition, officials cherry-pick files and expect a bigger share of the pie. And people like Walia find the process of doing business more painful than before.
The Centre and the AAP government in Delhi are locked in a turf war over several issues.
AAP wants Delhi to be a full-fledged state. BJP says the present arrangement, in which the Centre and state government divide powers, is working fine.
Control over police
AAP wants the Union home ministry to hand over control of Delhi Police to the state government. BJP says Delhi is a special state, by virtue of it being the national capital, and that there is no Constitutional provision that requires the Centre to do so.
AAP wants control over key bureaucratic appointments. The Centre says all appointments should be ratified by the lieutenant governor.