Vote Politics: Delhi Metro in for rough ride

Sidharth Mishra12Recently there was an incident where the Delhi Metro operations had to be halted on the Magenta Line because of the fire in the slums below the metro lines. Services between Jasola Vihar and Kalindi Kunj stations had to be paused due to the smoke caused by the fire. 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 stake holders, 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 in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, which was headed by Lal Krishna Advani, worked in close cooperation with the then Congress government in Delhi led by Sheila Dikshit to usher in the service.   

However, in the past five years, the continues 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 put 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 ‘financial prudence’. On the other hand, the same government has made an announcement for free rides for women in the metro system.

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As the debate on the matter raged with even the legendary founder of Delhi Metro, E Sreedharan writing to the Prime Minister against any such move, it was, however, revealed that claim was so far hollow and misleading.   

Last week in an answer to a question in Lok Sabha, Union Minister for Urban Affairs Hardeep S Puri expressed ignorance about any move by the Arvind Kejriwal-led Delhi Government to make metro rides free for the woman passengers. Puri said on the floor of the House, “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 Delhi Metro. If the Delhi Government wants the Centre to bear operational losses in phase IV then the Centre should be taken onboard before implementing any such decision. The Minister’s answer caught people with surprise as Kejriwal had already gone to town about a fortnight back claiming free rides for women passengers not just in Delhi Metro but also Delhi Transport Corporation and cluster buses.

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There were advertisements in newspapers and also hoardings up across the city claiming the Delhi Government move on the free rises. Making an announcement for such an intent is one thing but issuing advertisements using public money claiming credit for a scheme only gave away the move being directed towards gaining a section of the votes in the assembly polls, which were less than nine months away.

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 ride for woman on Delhi Metro, what has come to be rightly termed as ‘Lifeline of Delhi’. For past several years, including this summer, Delhi has witnessed water riots in large parts of the city which go dry in scorching summer heat. 

Given the misery of Delhi Jal Board, the concern at such free ride policy is justified. Those at who operate metro and those who helped building rightly feel that it would strangle the lifeline. While expressing his reservations about giving any free rides, Sreedharan had mentioned in his note that, “One shareholder cannot take a unilateral decision to give concession to one section of 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 ride 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 govt needs to be on board. DMRC didn't get any proposal from the Delhi govt. Delhi govt 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 trumpet a case of playing victim at the hands of the Centre and try and gain sympathy of the voters. His deputy Manish Sisodia has already countered Sreedharan’s concern with a scant regard for the much-revered technocrat.

It would be sad if the advise of venerable technocrat is set aside for meagre political gains. Delhi cannot allow Delhi Metro Rail Corporation to go bankrupt, as has been feared by Sreedharan.

(First published in www.News18.com)

 

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