Delhi's Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, who has transformed the face of Delhi in her 10-year reign, is hopeful that she would be judged by her work and she could face the electorate with her head held high. On a sunny May afternoon in her official residence, Dikshit spoke with Sanjay Kapoor about her struggle to make Delhi a city that India could be proud of.
Looking at newspapers today, one gets the impression that there is always chaos in Delhi. Is it because of the growing 'tabloidification' of the media or is there really a lot happening?
With all due respect to the media, I personally feel a lot of attention is being given to all that is sensational or negative. For instance, the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) scheme is experiencing problems in implementation, but it's not that we are not trying to sort it out. As for sealing of buildings in Delhi, people seem to forget that this is being done by the courts. No administration, or no one, for that matter, can disobey the courts. Why has the court taken this issue up? Because there is either a PIL or there has been a weak implementation of law, and people have also violated the law. There seems to be an absence of balanced thinking. It is not as if all of Delhi is being pulled down. The BRT is only a 5.5 km stretch. Everybody seems to have forgotten the chaos that takes place at ITO or Pitampura or any other crossing. You also have to look at the percentage of people who are going to benefit and opposed to those that will be affected negatively. If an unauthorised construction is pulled down, five or maybe ten people will get affected, but there are many more people who thank us because such constructions caused them a lot of inconvenience. The majority always remains silent, or its voice is not heard. I must confess media reporting today is different from what it was a few years ago. I get 28 newspapers every day, and sometimes it seems the headlines say one thing while the content says something else. Only headlines sell a paper. The rest of the content does not matter.
Do these newspapers have a motive?
Well, take the campaign against the BRT corridor. Most newspapers attribute their stories to a senior official or a senior policeman or a senior minister, who is never named. I find it suspicious.
But do you think certain lobbies or automobile manufacturers are opposing the BRT as it would give precedence to the public transport system rather than individual vehicles?
It could be. I won't say anything without having any evidence. But there are people who are not bothered about the 60 per cent bus commuters who are going to benefit from the BRT. They are very worried about their own comfort. If you look at the BRT corridor from Ambedkar Nagar, it has cows, buffaloes, goats and hawkers all over. It has a shopping arcade too, where people have extended their shops on to the service lane. So the situation is complicated. There is more traffic coming from Gurgaon who are trying to avoid the payment of Rs 30 that has to be paid for the new toll plaza. Five to ten thousand cars are diverted on to this road. This is why there is so much traffic there. There has to be a change in our culture and in the way we need to think of the future. And what is happening with BRT is similar to what we experienced when we tried to bring in CNG or the Metro. There is going to be some dissatisfaction in the beginning, but we have to find out who is dissatisfied. And I can only say that we took up what was the best for the people.
We have made pedestrian crossings. We have given pedestrians, cyclists and buses their own space. The buses are running faster and smoother. The system needs to be given a little more time. I won't say everything is hunky dory. There are things that need to be corrected. That is why we have put the rest of the corridor on hold.
But can the BRT corridor or similar provisions accommodate the growing number of vehicles in Delhi? How do you prevent more traffic on the road?
How do you do that? We are a growing economy. If Delhi does not give motor registrations, then people will get their cars registered in Haryana or UP. But I agree that certain things have to be done to discipline people.
You have to look at the basic changes that have taken place around us. We have to plan for 10 - 12 years from now. the number of cars is being expected to double in the next few years. We have given you air-conditioned buses, we have given you an air-conditioned Metro. Please use them rather than your car. I also want to encourage battery-driven cars. Cars occupy space, and how many people travel in one car? Five or six at the most. A bus accommodates 60 to 70 people.
Do you think a certain mindset is coming in the way of Delhi becoming a modern international city?
Mindset is a big problem. There are many people who are not always ready to accept change or give up on their comfort or habits. Look at the power and water situation. No one points out the fact that in early days no household had four air conditioner or two refrigerators. Coolers are being replaced by ACs. Cooking heaters are being replaced by microwaves.
When I started the Bhagidari system, the real idea behind it was to change the mindset. People must understand governance. People must understand limitation of resources. In 1998-99, we were getting 1900 MW of electricity. Today we get 4600 MW and even that is not enough. Unless people are sensitive to conservation, nothing will work.
How do you sort this out?
We have to make other cities as attractive as Delhi. People come here looking for jobs and opportunities, and for the comforts that living in the capital provides. State capitals should be developed so that everybody does not have to come to Delhi. They come here only because life is better here. And that includes education, medical care and civic amenities. Thirty per cent of the people treated in our government hospitals are from outside Delhi. Unless we make other places as attractive, we cannot resolve this problem. People will not migrate if they can get good facilities in other smaller towns.
How do you hope to utilise the national urban renewal fund?
We are using it in housing. We gave about 10,000 houses in Bawana, each one costing two lakh rupees, with an open space, schools, dispensaries and shopping areas. We have plans for four lakh houses.
BJP has been demanding an amnesty to all the commercial units that have been operating in residential areas. What is your take on this?
It's a complicated issue. If you are planning to bring amnesty then you are giving amnesty to people and a system that has violated the law. How much are you going to give? Even today violations are going on. If you give amnesty, you give a boost to the violation.
With the real estate boom that is taking place, Delhi has become a high value city where there is no space for poor people. How do you see this?
That was why unauthorised colonies came up, as there was no housing for the poor. Anantram Dairy, for instance, is on the government land. Sainik Farms is on agricultural land. The only thing the government can do to them is not to give them power. They have their own drinking water system, they have their own power generation system, and they live a better life than you and I do.
With the Commonwealth Games coming up in two years, do you think Delhi is prepared to handle the pressure?
Delhi will be prepared. It will have state of the art infrastructure. However, one thing I am not so confident about is garbage removal and sanitation. The problem is lack of proper planning. The bigger issue is cleaning of the Yamuna river. Lot of agencies are involved in this exercise. What needs to be done is to clean up the three big drains that bring 60 per cent of the muck from Delhi into the Yamuna. We have to think in terms of an interceptor system, so that when the water goes into these canals, it is cleaned up. The EIL is doing a study on this. In two or three years, I think the Yamuna will be clean.
What is your vision of Delhi?
Delhi is next to none. It should be the best. It has a cultural heritage of its own. It's the
capital of a big and great nation. One great satisfaction in my nine-and-a-half years as CM is that we have moved forward despite all odds. Delhi had started stagnating in 1998, but we got it moving. We could have moved much faster. There is much to be done.
But you won't like Delhi to be the city of the rich alone
No. Everybody has a place here and every Indian has a place here. And we are not that kind of an autocratic nation that one would need a permit to work in Delhi. So we have to keep on working harder and harder, collectively conserving what we have and move forward. It will come with cultural change, but it will happen. Everybody should try to make their capital the best.
Politically, can you go with your head held high when you face the next elections?
I cannot predict the people's mandate. But we have done our work honestly. We have done clean, open and productive work. We have done well and if you want this good work to continue, you have to choose a government that delivers.