Key governance issues return to focus in Delhi as Covid-19 cases drop
Last week, Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal spoke about reviving the Capital’s economy, completing pending projects, implementing schemes that have been stuck and allowing hotels and weekly markets to resume operations, though it was later turned down by lieutenant-governor Anil Baijal.Updated: Aug 03, 2020 11:10 IST
New Delhi: With the Covid-19 recovery rate in Delhi now 89.56% and active cases down to 7.52% of the total tally of 137,677, the Delhi government has started to focus on key governance issues that have been on the back burner in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Last week, Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal spoke about reviving the Capital’s economy, completing pending projects, implementing schemes that have been stuck and allowing hotels and weekly markets to resume operations, though it was later turned down by lieutenant-governor Anil Baijal.
To pump in more resources for non-Covid works, senior officials in the finance department said the government, this time, has lifted the restriction on not considering any non-Covid proposal — a decision taken in June which was valid till July 31, when the cases in the city were peaking.
There have been several signs of this shift in focus —and a gradual return to business as usual—over the past three weeks.
Since July 21,the government cleared the decks for its flagship doorstep delivery of rations scheme, inspected infrastructure projects such as the redevelopment of Chandni Chowk and flyovers in north-east Delhi’s Seelampur and Shastri Park, and on July 27 Kejriwal launched an employment portal to facilitate job seekers and employers who have been hit by the lockdown.
In June, Kejriwal had no appointment connected to a non-Covid issue. In July, he made two non-Covid visits—to the Shastri Park flyover and Chandni Chowk.
To be sure, Delhi’s deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia, who is also the city’s finance minister, issued a caveat that the government will not launch any new projects just yet given the financial crisis that the city faces. “We are struggling to pay salaries. It is impossible to think of investing in new projects now, unless we get some financial help from the central government. We had sought ₹5,000 crore from the Centre but we have not got any money till date,” Sisodia said.
The government has also consistently warned against complacency and the need to adhere to safety and distancing norms.
But the administration, once the unlock guidelines were in place, started delivering day-to-day essential services gradually—including meter readings for power bills that started July 1, and issuing important documents such as income certificates, disability certificates, caste certificates, mutation of property and works related to stamp duty—highlighting that Delhi, which is the only place in India where cases are consistently reducing, is starting to look at life beyond the pandemic from a governance perspective.
Debolina Kundu, a professor at the National Institute of Urban Affairs (NIUA), emphasised three points that the government should consider as it gets back to regular non-Covid affairs.
“First, workplaces must adhere to social distancing. For that, offices can chalk out plans such as staggered timings and encourage work from home in departments where possible. Second, while drafting welfare policies, the government must consider that a large chunk of people who were borderline above the poverty line (APL) have now dropped below the poverty line (BPL) after the lockdown. All targeted benefit schemes have to be re-assessed and expanded, if needed. Third, while designing habitation schemes for the poor, the government must ensure that houses are capable of isolation of the residents. The policymakers should use Covid management as a learning experience. At this juncture, it is very important to ensure closed drains, toilets and access to clean water for each such household.”
Here is a look at some of the areas that the administration had started gradually reopening.
INFRASTRUCTURE & DEVELOPMENT
Over the past two weeks, the chief minister has reviewed the Shastri Park flyover project and the plan for redevelopment of Chandni Chowk, which are scheduled to be opened to the public in August and November respectively. Both the projects have been delayed due to labour shortages owing to the pandemic. While the Shastri Park road project consists of two flyovers and is aimed at decongesting northeast Delhi’s traffic, the Chandni Chowk project aims to establish a decongested and pedestrianised heritage market on the 1.5km road stretch between Red Fort and Fatehpuri Masjid.
Senior officials from different government departments who spoke to HT on condition of anonymity said a funding crunch had forced the government to prioritise a handful of incomplete works over several flagship projects. For instance, the plan to start the second phase of the government’s CCTV camera scheme, which involved installing 140,000 cameras across the city, is still on hold. There has been no talk on when it will be revived.
Due to the Covid-19 lockdown, consumers in Delhi were getting provisional power bills in the months of March, April and May because private power distribution companies (Discoms) had stopped meter readings over safety concerns.
The state power department said all discoms had resumed meter readings last week, except in containment zones.
A spokesperson for BSES said the pandemic pushed up online payments of power bills. “As per our data, in the pre-Covid times, 72% of the consumers of BYPL and BRPL, which constitute around 85% of Delhi’s total 5.5 million domestic consumers, used to pay their electricity bills online. Until last week, we found that this has now increased to 90%,” a BSES spokesperson said.
The Delhi Jal Board (DJB) has opened all its offices, said Raghav Chadha, DJB vice-chairperson and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) MLA from Rajendra Nagar.
He said that all the zonal revenue offices (ZROs) of DJB in each of the 11 districts have opened, but very few people are turning up owing to the pandemic. “The zonal revenue offices are the offices where the real public dealing used to happen, but despite the unlocking, very few people are coming due to the pandemic. Another reason for fewer people turning up is that the Delhi government has now extended its water bill waiver scheme till September 30,” he said.
The state transport department said that it is witnessing a deluge of queries regarding driving license, fitness certificates and permit renewals.
Services such as making a licence now entails a long wait which can go up to two months at regional transport offices (RTOs) such as Rohini, Sarai Kale Khan and Dwarka. The RTO at Sarai Kale Khan, for example, which is also one of the busiest in Delhi, 200 driving tests used to be conducted every day till March. At the moment, around 80 tests are conducted in a day. The number of online tests for a learners’ license is now down to around 100 from 250 daily tests conducted before the pandemic.
“Due to social distancing norms, which cannot be compromised with, we have capped the number of daily driving tests being conducted in every RTO. Hence, demand is much higher. We are also trying to make people aware of the Central government’s latest relaxed rule under which expired transport documents such as a licence, fitness certificates and other permits are valid till September 30. So, there is no need to panic,” said a senior transport official who asked not to be named.
Apart from routine services, the Delhi government has also floated tenders for acquiring 300 e-buses for the Delhi Transport Corporation’s fleet and also released an instalment of its share to the DMRC to resume work on the Janakpuri West – R K Ashram corridor under Delhi Metro’s phase 4, said a second senior transport official.
More than 23 revenue services that were categorised as “non-essential” were shut in Delhi on March 20. From June 8, when the first unlocking guidelines were issued, Delhi government’s revenue department slowly opened its public services — including issuing income, domicile, marriage, caste and solvency certificates, mutation of properties, enrolment of Aadhaar and civil defence volunteers, and registration of documents in sub-registrar offices.
Government data seen by HT shows that earnings through revenue services in June this year dropped by almost 44% compared to the same period last year. Various district revenue offices in June 2019 processed and approved 24,709 documents compared to 14,165 in June 2020. In the same month last year, the government earned ₹49 crore in registration fees and ₹238 crore in stamp duty. This June, the two collections were ₹28 crore and ₹135 crore respectively.