The CM who helped craft a world-class DelhiUpdated: Jul 21, 2019 00:30 IST
“Whenever people talk of a developed and growing Delhi, Sheilaji’s name will be remembered,” said Sandeep Dikshit, a former MP and son of three-time chief minister Sheila Dikshit, who passed away on Saturday.
During her 15-year tenure, Dikshit is credited for transforming Delhi despite its complex matrix of governance. From switching public transport to CNG and building new flyovers to privatising the power sector, Dikshit took some bold decisions to make the national Capital a “world class city”.
Former Delhi lieutenant governor (L-G) Vijai Kapoor and bureaucrats, on Saturday, lauded Dikshit for being able to strike a balance between the Centre and the state despite Delhi’s unique status. Others, who worked closely with her, recalled the big-ticket projects she had commissioned.
Former L-G Kapoor said that carrying out infrastructure projects in Delhi has always been complex because of the multiple agencies involved. “But, Dikshit tactfully managed to get the work done. Delhi has a difficult matrix of governance. She worked harmoniously within it,” he said.
Dikshit’s former Cabinet colleagues say infrastructure was one of her key focus areas. The opening of Delhi’s first Metro line — between Shahdara and Tis Hazari in 2002 — and the further expansion changed the way people commuted in the city.
“For Delhi Metro, she directed all officers to pitch in every way possible – be it clearing land hurdles or shifting utility lines as per the DMRC’s demand. The then Union railway minister Mamata Banerjee had opposed constructing the Barapullah flyover. Then culture minister Ambika Soni too had objected to the project saying that the view to Humyaun’s Tomb would be affected. But, Dikshit convinced them and found a way around,” said Rakesh Mehta, former Delhi chief secretary.
AK Walia, the PWD minister in Dikshit’s cabinet, said nearly 65 flyovers were built during their tenure. The flyovers at AIIMS, Dhaula Kuan, Outer Ring Road and Barapullah were all conceived during Dikshit’s tenure.
“Traffic congestion was a serious problem and she wanted it to be addressed. It was decided that we will construct flyovers, widen roads and make certain stretches signal-free. The government did a lot of work in developing the trans-Yamuna area,” said Walia.
Then came the Commonwealth Games, 2010 for which Dikshit took the lead in revamping Delhi, which also included modernising the Indira Gandhi International Airport.
According to PK Tripathi, former chief secretary, the idea of streetscaping was introduced by Dikshit during the 2010 Games. Tripathi, who was also the then principal secretary, CWG, said Dikshit stood firm even as she faced criticism from all quarters in the run-up to the Games.
“Just days ahead of the Games, an under-construction foot overbridge in front of the then new Jawaharlal Nehru stadium collapsed. I remember calling Dikshit from the spot to break the news to her. All she said was there is no time to cry. ‘Make it work’, she said. It was then that I gave the approval to call in the Army to salvage the situation,” he said.
Later, however, the 2010 CWG was mired in financial irregularities that came to undermine Sheila Dikshit’s third and final term.
The daily public transport of roughly 32 lakh passengers in Delhi is still catered to by about 5,500 buses that were purchased by the Sheila Dikshit government, said Sunita Narian, member of the Supreme Court appointed Environment Pollution(Prevention and Control) Authority for NCR (EPCA).
“I have no hesitation in saying that she is the best that Delhi got when it comes to public transport. Not a single bus has been added by the Delhi government after her tenure. In fact, she was the one who introduced the cluster bus scheme,” she said.
Although shifting auto-rickshaws and buses to CNG was in accordance to the Supreme Court order, Dikshit stood by her decision despite stiff resistance. “She was concerned about the city’s air quality. I remember she once called me at 7am asking about alternatives, after seeing an auto-rickshaw emanating thick smoke. A few days later, she approved the shift to CNG,” Narain said.
It was during her tenure that the Delhi government experimented with BRT, which officials said was pushed by Dikshit, as it was mandated under a national policy.
Privatisation of power
As the erstwhile Delhi Vidyut Board (DVB) became one of the biggest loss making electricity boards in the country, Dikshit spearheaded the move to privatise the electricity sector in Delhi.
“DVB’s losses were mostly due to poor distribution of power supply. Before privatisation the distribution losses in Delhi were over 50%, which now has come down to about 15%. Dikshit channeled funds saved from the electricity sector to build more than a dozen hospitals. This was because during DVB, a huge chunk of Delhi’s budget used to go for power. This was not needed anymore after discoms emerged,” said Tripathi.