Chief minister Arvind Kejriwal has promised a hands-on role in running Delhi’s municipal corporations if AAP comes to power in Sunday’s elections but ruled out any involvement of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the city’s administration if the BJP retains power.
“The BJP is seeking votes only, and only, in the name of Modiji. I would like to tell people that Modiji is not going to run MCD… MCD will only be run by Kejriwal,” the AAP national convener told Hindustan Times in an interview on Thursday.
The AAP is making its debut in Delhi civic elections, being billed as a barometer for the Kejriwal government’s popularity two years after it won an overwhelming mandate in the assembly polls.
Kejriwal argued that Delhi’s elected government has been reduced to an “advisory” role because all files went to the Lieutenant-Governor’s office for clearance, but things would be different in the MCDs. “Under MCD rules... the House is supreme,” he said.
The Delhi CM said his government has demolished several “mafias” which were allegedly active in the state government —power, water, medicines, contractors, education — and would end the parking, hoarding and contractors’ mafia in the MCD.
In the interview to Hindustan Times, the AAP national convener said the April 23 elections were a direct fight between AAP and the BJP. Kejriwal spoke about solutions for the city’s civic mess, corruption and a series of other issues in a free-wheeling conversation.
Here are the excerpts of the interview:
Why should Delhi vote for AAP in Sunday’s MCD elections?
Compare 10 years of the BJP in MCD and AAP’s two years in government in Delhi. I regularly ask the people of Delhi if they can remember one work of the BJP-ruled MCDs. No one remembers even one. What comes to mind when I say ‘BJP in MCD’ -- they converted Delhi into a dumpyard; dengue and chikungunya; rampant corruption.
When you remember two years of AAP in government, everybody names at least these: power rates halved, free water, potable water in taps in some areas, improved conditions in hospitals, medicines and tests in hospitals for free, mohalla clinics, revolutionary work in education, private schools not allowed to hike fees.
Now, we need to come together and clean Delhi. Delhi is the national capital, but there is so much of filth. There are mosquitoes all around, which lead to the spread of dengue and chikungunya. People of Delhi have this hope of cleaning Delhi only from AAP. That’s why they should vote for us.
In that case, will the result be a referendum on your government’s performance?
Whatever I say, media will interpret it that way. The BJP is seeking votes in the name of Modiji. But people of Delhi area aware that Modiji is not going to run the MCDs. Two years back, Modiji gave the slogan of Swachh Bharat, which was a very nice campaign. But the Delhi BJP failed even the Swachh Bharat campaign. Only AAP can make Delhi Swachh.
Is Modi a factor in the MCD elections?
I don’t think he is. The BJP is seeking votes only, and only, in the name of Modiji. I would like to tell people that Modiji is not going to run the MCD… MCD will only be run by Kejriwal.
One of your campaign pitches is that if AAP comes to power in MCD, governance in Delhi will become smooth because you are also in government. How are the two linked?
Let me give you some examples. In our budget last year, we allocated around Rs 250 crore for safety of women. We identified 40,000 dark spots across the city. We decided to make those areas well-lit. The BJP got a resolution passed in the MCD house that we will not allow installation of streetlight on MCD roads if they are funded by the AAP government. Who lost due to such petty politics? The women of Delhi.
Similarly, we allocated Rs 1,500 crore over the past two years to provide drinking water in all colonies which are not on the piped water network. We had set target of December, 2017. We have been able to bring 309 colonies on the water network in one year. But the MCD passed a resolution that the Delhi government will not be allowed to lay pipelines on corporation roads. Who is losing? The people of Delhi.
You have alleged that the Centre creates obstacles in the functioning of the Delhi government. Won’t things be the same if you come to power in MCDs?
Things are different in the MCD. Under the rules, the L-G has no role in the MCD. Though there are few sections where the Home Ministry has powers, the MCD is much more independent than the Delhi government. In MCD, the house is supreme.
Manish Sisodia told us in February that after the appointment of Anil Baijal, there was a thaw in your government’s relationship with the L-G office. Things seem to be changing
Till the end of March, we had very pleasant interactions with the new L-G. He cleared several projects. Now all files go to the L-G – he is supreme, the elected government has almost become advisory. But since the announcement of elections, the Shunglu Committee report was leaked, our office was taken away, recovery of advertisements worth Rs 97 crore was ordered. There was no provocation from our side. In fact, we had been praising him. But over the past fortnight, he has been firing one salvo after other. It’s for everyone to see.
So, who is better L-G from your perspective -- Anil Baijal or Najeeb Jung?
I don’t think we should comment on individuals. We had a very cordial relationship (with Baijal). I used to meet him at 5 pm every Wednesday. Dialogues had increased, meetings were revived. But the development over the past 15-20 days raise doubts if his political masters are directing him to do all this.
What is this election really about: keeping Delhi clean or building a larger political narrative?
It’s the MCD election, and MCD elections should be contested on local issues. There is no point of voting for Congress, the party is finished. If you vote for the BJP, remember that the garbage outside your house will continue to remain unattended for the next five years, mosquito menace will remain. Any vote for BJP is a vote for filth and chikungunya.
In the periphery of Delhi, Noida and Gurgaon, we have seen meat shops being shut, anti-Romeo squads. Do you think these issues impact the MCD elections?
The entire country needs to think about all this. Firstly, violence has increased in the country. Violence in thought, violence in speech, violence in action. The State is accountable for curbing violence. The State should immediately take action against the culprits. That is not happening. If people resorting to violence belong to a particular party, no action is taken. The message is that people associated with that party can do anything, but no action will be taken.
The second discourse is that the entire country is being frightened. The income-tax law has been made draconian. It is almost a financial version of TADA. They can raid anybody’s house and office. Businessmen and traders are under fear. Media and journalists are afraid. An atmosphere of fear has been created. This is neither good for the country, or the people.
You were recently quoted as saying that if AAP wins less than 200 seats, EVMs would be to blame.
No. I said that if the elections are held, free and fair and EVMs are not tampered with, AAP has hopes of winning over 200 seats. We expect such a result as per our survey.
The allegation is that by talking about EVMs, you are preparing a ground that if AAP loses the election then the blame could be pinned on voting machines.
The media is putting it out in a simplistic manner. If EVMs are tampered, then it is not affecting the health of Kejriwal, it is affecting the health of the nation. If EVMs are not tamper-proof, no one can save the country. I am more worried about that. You would ask, why didn’t you speak when you won 67 seats. If we won 67 seats, BJP also won in Haryana, Maharashtra and Jharkhand -- we didn’t raise questions then. Something has happened over the past four months. Suddenly several instances, evidences have started emerging about EVM manipulation.
Unfortunately, the response of election commission has been that all is fine. They are not investigating it. If an independent candidate in Pune says that he got zero vote -- he should get his own vote, at least -- it’s a serious thing. Where did his vote go? At least probe it. In Bhind, all votes went to the BJP in the presence of 20 journalists. Within two days, the election commission issued statement saying, there was nothing wrong. It does not inspire confidence. There was something wrong with the machine. Now they are saying the journalists made a mistake. Twenty journalists made a mistake when even videos are available.
What if you win the MCD elections? Will the fight against EVMs continue?
Yes, we will continue the fight against EVMs.
The Punjab results didn’t go as you would’ve liked. Is that making things difficult on the ground?
No, it’s not like that. But a positive result in Punjab would definitely have had an impact.
In the Rajouri Garden bypoll, the vote share increase of the BJP was sizeable. It is different from the past when its vote share used to remain constant? Is it worrisome for you?
In Rajouri, the election was completely local. It would be wrong to extrapolate it to across Delhi. When I resigned after 49 days, people got very angry. It took me five-six months to convince them. I apologized to people. People then understood and gave us 67 seats. The same anger was palpable in Rajouri, that he (AAP legislator Jarnail Singh) left midway. But we didn’t get time to convince them. People have vented out their anger. It doesn’t have a larger impact.
Secondly, the BJP has got fewer votes than the previous occasion. Last time, it got about 45,000 votes. This time it has come down to 41,000. The total voting percentage was 20 per cent less. So their (BJP) numbers remained the same, but it’s looking high in percentage terms.
Why are you asking people not to vote for Congress? Are you suggesting that the BJP will have an edge in a triangular contest?
No, that’s not the case. I think the contest is mainly between the BJP and AAP.
You have announced waiver of house tax. The urban experts are say this is not the way to go about it. Instead of improving inefficiency in collection, why do you want to finish it?
There is no lack of funds, just a a lack of intent. We made power and water cheaper while lowering taxes. If do not require tax, why should I burden the people? House tax collection is meagre, but harassment is big. The inspector deliberately makes inflated bills. People are forced to pay bribe to get their bills amended. Let’s end it. Our calculation is that you can actually run MCD profitably without charging house tax.
Water consumption went down as it was incentivised. As far as house tax goes, shouldn’t citizens be paying some taxes?
But they are paying other taxes. If there is no need, why should we tax people? If we can show that MCD could operate without charging house tax, it would become a model for the entire world. Why should we charge house tax which is regressive? It leads to corruption. With one stroke, we can end harassment and make people’s lives easier, without much impact on revenue. It’s a win-win for everyone.
So, what are the biggest problems with how the MCD runs Delhi, and what are the solutions?
The biggest issue is sanitation. Cleaning the city is not rocket science. Global tenders need to be floated. Sanitation levels in several European countries are very good. Bring those companies here, they will clean Delhi.
Second is solid waste management. Landfills have been converted into mountains. MCD spends crores on the lifting and disposing of garbage. Actually, you can make money out of it. Several European nations buy garbage of other countries. Garbage has economic value. It can be turned around totally. You can use garbage for generation of energy and compost.
The third major issue is vector-borne diseases. The only reason is lack of sanitation. Our MLA from Moti Nagar, Shiv Charan Goyal, has made some local intervention, which has led to eradication of mosquitoes in the area. We’re not building castles in air when we say we will make the city free of mosquito, dengue and chikungunya. We have set a target of three years to do this.
The fourth thing is MCDs have become financially bankrupt. We can make the MCDs self-sustainable. The sources of revenue generation of the MCDs are much more than the Delhi government, and the law allows us to explore many more. We can convert MCD into a modern, vibrant and financially self-sufficient organisation.
A lot of this comes down to corruption How will you tackle it?
More than corruption, there are mafias. Over the past two years, we have demolished five types of mafia. The first was the tanker mafia. In Kirari, the water business ran into crores. Several tankers used to feed the area, now not one is required. Water pipelines were laid in 80 colonies.
The second was the drug mafia. A mafia of 6-7 drug suppliers was controlling everything in government hospitals. They used to raise fake bills and share the spoils with others. No medicine supply was done in Delhi. Now, medicines are available in all hospitals. Earlier, patients were directed to buy medicines from outside. Now even a Rs 2,000 tablet is available in Delhi government hospitals for free.
Third was the power discoms. Till the time Shiela Dikshit was in power, power tariffs were revised every year. We have not allowed tariff revision over the past two years. Many people accuse us of not providing any subsidy to households consuming over 400 units energy per month. It’s them who have benefitted from this cap on tariff revision.
Then comes the mafia of contractors. Over-billing was the norm in all contracts of the PWD. I often cite the example of construction of flyovers -- we completed work in Rs 200 crore instead of the estimated Rs 325 crore. Other governments would have raised the bills to Rs 1,000 crore.
The last was the education mafia. Schools are owned by politicians. We didn’t allow them to raise schools fees in last two years.
We have demolished five types of mafia. In MCDs, there are mafias as well -- parking, hoardings and contractors. Only we can demolish them, nobody else.