NEW DELHI: With an insider’s familiarity with government operations in Delhi, I am examining here the achievability of AAP’s major demands. They require ideological, fiscal and policy commitments which have enormous implications that should be understood.
When the 1991 NCT of Delhi Act was still under consideration, the subjects of land, police and public order had been included in the state list. These were jettisoned at the last minute before the Act was passed. Twenty-two years later, Delhi’s political executive cannot administer these three subjects which are fundamental to participatory governance.
AAP has demanded full statehood for Delhi. Congress has rightly said statehood is a central issue while giving lip support. The demand was first articulated by Sheila Dikshit in 2002 but the then home minister, L K Advani, did not respond favourably. Neither did the Congress home minister, Shivraj Patil, two years later.
Minus authority over land, it is questionable how AAP’s hopes to establish 500 schools and numerous hospitals can materialize. The policy on land and building continues to be controlled by the ministry of urban development and Delhi Development Authority. Land acquisition comes squarely under the LG. Delhi cannot allot land even for a playground!
After the Nirbhaya rape case, Sheila Dikshit had revived her demand for statehood, this time focusing on the need for Delhi Police to report to her. But the Central Government, headed by Congress, guillotined the idea, publicly. At the back of everyone’s mind (long before AAP became a player) was the apprehension that one day a confrontationist chief minister might use this clout to embarrass the Central government or politicize an 80,000-strong force. When Shiela Dikshit with all her political proximity and sagacity could not succeed in wresting control over land and police, can AAP deliver what it has promised without this authority?
Even so, Delhi government has to assume responsibility for water scarcity, power supply, education, health services, transport, social welfare and much more as enjoined by the NCT Act 1991.The process is ridden with constant pulls and pressures. Within this, AAP’s promise of 700 litres of free water is physically and tactically unfeasible. Even its re-distribution is unrealistic.
AAP wants decentralization of governance through RWAs and mohalla committees. Though needed, this requires amending the municipal act because the arbiter of what is right and wrong will ultimately need legitimacy. But changing the municipal act requires approval of ministry of home affairs and of MoUD and will be contested by the municipal councillors. With three elected bodies (Central, state and municipal bodies), it will be a massive three-way fight for territory.
The demand for regularizing unauthorized colonies has been a milking cow for decades. AAP has just joined the list. These residents far from being poor had shrewdly acquired privately owned land ages ago and later built and re-sold their properties. Their demands for development fall outside the prescribed planning and maintenance processes that DDA and MCD are expected to fulfill. Even so the entreaties are met with vast sympathy by political parties because the colonies constitute a significant vote bank. No government minds robbing Peter to pay Paul to influence this solid horde of voters. No one, including AAP, ever mentions levying substantial development charges for granting regularization. Without that, such promises would need scrounging from an over-committed budget, quite unjustly.
Electricity rates too cannot be reduced and everyone except a gullible voter knows it. The bulk of electricity is purchased from state-owned generating companies. The 50% reduction in electricity charges was an excessive promise which some people believed in blindly. If subsidies are envisaged, some other critical needs would need to be forsaken.
There is then no hope of garnering funds for all the promises made (which have since been converted into “demands for engagement”) except through taxation. Delhi, unlike full states, cannot raise loans from the market. Only the Central Government can give additional support, but such support is fastened by fiscal formulae which are inelastic.
Is AAP preparing ground for declaring that they were denied the legitimate support to govern Delhi? And to then mobilize voters on the plank of discrimination?