OPINION | Delhi Metro in for a Roller Coaster Ride as Arvind Kejriwal Govt Jumps the Gun on Free Trips for Women
In a surprising twist to the debate, it was revealed in the Lok Sabha last week that the Delhi government has not sent any such proposal to the Centre.
File photo of Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal. (PTI)
The Delhi Metro had to recently suspend operations on the Magenta Line because of fire in the slums below the metro line, affecting services between Jasola Vihar and Kalindi Kunj stations. This incident has a great symbolic value.
As slums and gutters continue be integral part of the national capital, Delhi Metro rises above all, running a world-class operation.
This has been possible because, when it was planned, the main stakeholders, the Centre and the Delhi government, rose above petty political considerations to give the city and the country a world-class transport system. A group of ministers, headed by LK Advani, in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government worked in close cooperation with the then Congress government in Delhi, which was led by Sheila Dikshit, to usher in the service.
However, in the past five years, the continued friction between the Centre and the Delhi government has delayed the expansion of the Delhi Metro network, putting much strain on the existing lines. The latest chafing relates to starting work on the three corridors of phase IV, on which an embargo has been placed by the Delhi government.
The Delhi government wants that the Centre should solely bear the cost of any operational losses during the building of this corridor. The basis of this decision is claimed to be ‘financial prudence’. On the other hand, the same government has made an announcement to provide free Metro rides for women.
As debate on the matter raged -- even the legendary architect of Delhi Metro, E Sreedharan, wrote to the Prime Minister against the move -- it was revealed that the claim was hollow and misleading.
Last week, in an answer to a question in the Lok Sabha, Union Minister for Urban Affairs Hardeep Singh Puri expressed ignorance about any move by the Arvind Kejriwal-led Delhi government to make Metro rides free for woman. Puri said on the floor of the House that “the Delhi government has sent no such proposal to the Union Government for approval”.
The Centre and Delhi government are equal partners in the operations of the Delhi Metro. If the Delhi government wants the Centre to bear operational losses in phase IV, then the Centre should be taken on board before implementing any such decision.
The minister’s answer caught people by surprise as Kejriwal had already gone to town a fortnight ago claiming free rides for women passengers not just in Delhi Metro but also Delhi Transport Corporation and cluster buses.
There were advertisements to this effect in newspapers and hoardings were also up across the city. Making an announcement is one thing, but issuing advertisements using public money and claiming credit only gave away the intent to gain a section of the votes in the assembly polls, which are less than nine months away.
The Kejriwal government came to power in 2015, riding on the promise of free water and power on half electrical rates. He wants to repeat the performance this time, promising free rides for women on the Delhi Metro, which has come to be rightly termed as ‘Lifeline of Delhi’. Those who operate the Metro and those who helped building it rightly feel that it would strangle the lifeline.
While expressing reservations about the free rides move, Sreedharan had mentioned in his note that, “One shareholder cannot take a unilateral decision to give concession to one section of the community and push Delhi Metro in to inefficiency and bankruptcy.”
In his note, he also mentioned that when these services were first launched, he took firm stand against any policy of giving free rides to any section to make the operations efficient and financially viable. Sreedharan in the letter said that free rides was not a good idea as the corporation has to pay back huge loans taken from Japan.
While answering queries on the free ride, Puri had made a caustic remark saying, “Kejriwal has no plan in mind. This Metro and bus freebie is just a jumla (hollow promise)."
To buttress his point further, he had said, “Mr Kejriwal has confused people because this is not how you give schemes. Central government needs to be on board. DMRC didn't get any proposal from the Delhi government. Delhi government already is running out of funds, they are in debt. I don't know how Kejriwal is planning to give metro rides for free.”
Arvind Kejriwal, however, is not an easy customer. Having made the promise and gone to town about it, he is not going to give up easily. He would once again playing the victim and try to gain sympathy of the voters. His deputy, Manish Sisodia, has already countered Sreedharan’s concern with scant regard for the much-revered technocrat.
It would be sad if Sreedharan’s advice is set aside for meagre political gains. Delhi cannot allow Delhi Metro Rail Corporation to go bankrupt, as has been feared by Sreedharan.
(The writer is a senior journalist and political analyst. Views are personal.)
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