Sheila Dikshit completed 14 years in office this month. Re-elected twice, the longest-serving chief minister of Delhi has shaped much of the city as we know it today.
In an interview to Hindustan Times, Dikshit speaks about her government's new initiatives and the challenges ahead.
Delhi has become the first state in India to launch a cash-for-food programme. What is the idea behind Annashree scheme?
The Delhi government has recognised the fact that there are vulnerable families which were left out from the system but needed our support. There have been reservations about giving cash subsidies in lieu of food. Some believe that it may be misused. My point is, even if it is misused, what percentage of it will be? A large number will still benefit. The existing public distribution system is full of lacunae. The quality of grain is bad. It requires multiple trips to PDS shops to get the ration.
Annashree is a Sahayak, a support for a family that is living on the fringes. We are giving them cash for food and not grain because it would give them the flexibility to use the money the way they want. They may not want to buy wheat and use the money for something else. R600 will give the woman of the house basic strength, a choice. We already have Jan Ahar and Aap Ki Rasoi schemes. Annashree is the third step in providing food security.
Do you think the scheme could have been better conceived? Is Rs. 600 enough?
Anything new is bound to be criticised by the Opposition. But we are not making fun of the poor as it is made out to be.
By the end of March, we hope to cover 200,000-300,000 families. If R600 is absolutely nothing, which I doubt, because it is a substantial amount, we will review it after proper monitoring.
But let the system settle. I can't change things immediately. When I came to power, old age pension was R200 a month. Today, we pay R1,500 a month, which is the highest in India. Our schemes are constantly reviewed.
Delhi will become the first state in India to embrace FDI in retail. How will it help the city?
I never said Delhi would be the first state to allow FDI in retail sector. But I do know it will benefit consumers. Delhi is not an agricultural state. We get our produce from other states. This move will bring stability. Today, something costs X in one market and Y in another. There has to be some uniformity in prices.
This will also help farmers because food won't get wasted. Today, APMC reports say 40% of its perishable items go waste. Refrigerated carriages will change that.
Delhi is a retail hub. Don't you think multinational retailers will hurt the local business?
I have received scores of retailers in different delegations who have welcomed the move. Local businesses will stay. Nobody goes to a mall to buy a kilo of onions.
FDI will also mean more jobs. We are working on modalities and see what changes are required to allow FDI. We already have big players like Reliance, Godrej and Big Bazaar in this business. A beginning has already been made.
Is your government in a rush to announce new schemes with an eye on Assembly elections next year?
We started working on Annashree last year when there were no elections. Show me one project that was not continued after elections? Ladli (monetary incentive to girls), Kishori (distributing sanitary napkins to schoolgirls), our pension schemes have grown in size. Work on roads, hospitals, flyovers has not been stopped because some election got over.
Are you up for another term as the chief minister?
My decision will depend on the outcome of the elections.