In her first interview after being sworn in as the chief minister of Delhi for the third time in a row, Sheila Dikshit told Anuradha Mukherjee that along with ongoing projects for Commonwealth Games, upgrades in transport, housing and health sectors would be her priorities.
What changes do you envisage for Delhi?
In 1996, ’97, ’98, soon after our coming to power, Delhi looked like a city running down. People could be seen sitting on roads after power cuts in residential areas — the water situation was bad. It was an impression of a non-responsive government. Now you don’t see stories about power and water shortage. You see stories on Blueline accidents and the BRT. I won’t say we have achieved everything, but it’s an ongoing process.
How will your government tackle air pollution keeping in mind international visitors for the Commonwealth Games?
Our initiatives had slowed down a bit on this front (air pollution), but the number of vehicles has also gone up. We are planning an incentive package for goods carriers operating within Delhi to switch over to CNG. I am also meeting Haryana chief minister next month to discuss the East-West Corridor and Munak Channel. Once the corridor comes through, it would be a direct link between UP and Haryana — this will take care of diesel trucks that pass through Delhi at present.
The Munak channel that was supposed to supply an extra 80 MGD of water to Delhi has also been in the pipeline for a while… Sheila Dikshit
has been chosen the chief minister of Delhi for the third time in a row. Dikshit has powered the Congress victory based on her team’s almost immaculate work record and her image as a leader who can get things done.
In her earlier tenures, she had overseen the difficult transition to CNG for public transport, going against the populist grain of the time. She also oversaw the industrial relocation process and it was in her tenure that the Delhi Metro rail project was “pulled out of the files” as Dikshit herself puts it.
She holds onto her previous portfolios, including higher education, art & culture, home, services, vigilance, general administration and environment. In addition, Dikshit has taken over two challenging departments — power and tourism.
Dikshit will have to ensure proper supply of electricity for Commonwealth Games, part of the reason why she has taken over the department. The government has to ensure that projects like Bawana plant, Bamnauli and Jhajjar plants are ready in time. Dikshit has also spoken of a transition to an open access regime where consumers would get electricity from different dispensers.
She will have to ensure a subtle cultural change that makes the city more friendly and safe for tourists visiting the city for the Games, apart from developing a network of information kiosks and service outlets.
She will face her most difficult hurdles - tackling Delhi's world famous air pollution levels and cleaning of river Yamuna. Crores have been spent on the latter project with very little impact. Among other measures, Dikshit proposes an incentive plan for goods carrier within Delhi to make a switch to CNG.
Delhi being an education hub for students across the country, she will have to create more government-run institutions. A new university — Ambedkar University — is on the cards for a while.
After building the channel (Munak), the dispute is that Delhi is not entitled to this water. Earlier, Haryana had said their existing channel did not have the capacity to carry extra water for Delhi. Now we have built a parallel channel… This controversy is despite an SC order that states that right to drinking water was above every other claim.
Distcoms say power from the upcoming 1,600 MW Bawana plant would be too costly. Does Bawana remain a viable project?
Bawana is definitely a viable project. I saw a presentation recently, which said power would cost between Rs 1.50 and Rs 2.50 per unit. Now we cannot say … if gas prices go up suddenly. Even if distcoms don't buy power from us, we can always sell it to others. Delhi will have a surplus power after the plant at Bawana comes up. Plus two more plants are coming up at Bamnauli and Jhajjar in Haryana by 2012.
It is felt that open access regime for power distribution will benefit the rich — that middle class families cannot afford costlier power and will lose the right to demand uninterrupted supply.
This will ensure equitable supply and conservation. A paper is being prepared on this. I have not studied the matter but we don't want anybody to suffer. We introduced special power rates for those whose total consumption was within 150 units to encourage consumption. Those crossing the limit paid a higher rate. Power consumption has also come down.
Your government came under a lot of flak for the Bus Rapid Transport Corridor… what are your plans?
BRT has been successful — those travelling in buses are happy. It is mainly car users who are complaining since their space has shrunk. We are studying it for improvements. But it is a futuristic plan and we are going to follow through on this. There is going to be some pain in transition.
What are the three areas where you want to see an improvement in your fresh tenure as CM?
Our stress would remain on all ongoing projects — especially those for Commonwealth Games. But apart from this the transport system in Delhi, housing for the middle and lower income groups and health will remains special target areas.