After ruling Delhi for 11 years and a year into her third consecutive term as chief minister, Sheila Dikshit talks about her government’s achievements and the hurdles ahead.
You had set an agenda on being re-elected — like takeover of MCD, improvement of the transport system etc. Are you happy with what has been achieved?
Success is partial. There are lots of achievements, but lots to catch up on as well. There is a lot to be done in connection with the Commonwealth Games projects. I am very happy with the expansion of the Metro, improvements in the transport sector, education and environment. With so much construction going on in the city, we thought it would be difficult to curb air pollution. We have managed to keep a check on it.
What do you perceive as the biggest challenge ahead of you in the years to come?
If you look at Delhi, migration is the biggest challenge. It’s just going on, but space and resources are limited. Alongside it, multiplicity of authorities is a problem. MCD goes its own way, the DDA goes its own way. The L-G has his own set of powers. As the chief minister of Delhi, one is the public face of the government. But we also get a lot of kudos for jobs that are well done along with the flak — even if we have to spend a lot of energy on publicity.
Are you satisfied with the preparations for Commonwealth Games?
There is scope for improvement. Work is on in full swing and most of the major projects would be ready four months before the Games. There is a real need to tame Delhi’s traffic.
What will you do about the non-infrastructure part of it — the traffic, public indiscipline?
Take a look at our ads. Don’t spit, don’t honk. We have just started a campaign to drive these messages home. You will see them soon. These are things that will change only when the people themselves come to it. It’s a civilisational change. We are running training sessions for our DTC drivers and auto and taxi drivers as well to teach them how to behave properly.
The government is running a deficit of almost Rs 23,000 crore. Are there more taxes and hikes on the cards after the Games 2010?
You wait, you have to pay more. You have to pay more for better services. Our collections have to be better. You want to travel in a lovely low-floor air conditioned bus, you will have to pay more. When you buy clothes from an ordinary shop, you pay a certain amount. When you go for something that’s more in fashion, you pay more. We will bring the increase in VAT rates on luxury items in the Assembly in March 2010.
How much of this is a result of spending on Commonwealth Games?
It’s not as if we don’t have money. We are getting a lot of money from the Centre. The infrastructure for the Games has a legacy value. These will last longer than the Games. You have to pay more for luxuries and you have to consider we have not hiked charges in five years. You still pay less than 10 paise for a bucket of water. People waste water and that’s why we have introduced slabs. The more you spend, the more you pay. The VAT rate increase of 1 per cent (from 4% to 5%) was on the recommendation of the Centre. It’s not as if we don’t have money, but we have to improve collections without touching the basics. If you buy a pen for Rs 20,000 and a cellphone for Rs 1 lakh, you will have to pay higher VAT. Same for cars.
Why not raise the VAT rates in one go? Were you trying to avoid criticism with Assembly in session?
No, we just felt this was something the finance department should take a closer look at.