As elections close in,turf war over city’s amenities begins

Ahead of the Assembly elections in a few months,the Sheila Dikshit-led Congress government seems to be on a ‘visibility’ spree.

Written by Apurva | New Delhi | Published:April 8, 2013 12:57 am

Ahead of the Assembly elections in a few months,the Sheila Dikshit-led Congress government seems to be on a ‘visibility’ spree.

First came control over more than 600 roads. Then,April 1 onwards,the Delhi government took charge of 217 toilet blocks in jhuggi- jhopri (JJ) clusters across the city.

Both services were earlier under BJP-controlled local bodies and are synonymous with development — the Congress’ main plank for the polls. With departments sparing no effort to advertise that both amenities were now being serviced by the Congress government,the gambit to wrest control of services from local bodies has the opposition BJP in a quandary.

Just as Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit went public about not controlling the police in the aftermath of the December 16 gangrape incident,the BJP is considering a similar drive to inform the electorate that they are no longer in charge of these ‘visible’ amenities.

Sources in the government said that each of the new roads,once completed,would be heavily publicised and marketed as a PWD effort. A total of 647 roads were transferred from the corporations to PWD last year after the government claimed that the MCDs were doing a shoddy job of maintaining the road network in the city. PWD is now under immense pressure to complete relaying these roads before the onset of monsoon and the implementation of election code of conduct in Delhi.

Similarly,with the toilet blocks,senior MLAs have already planned on organising elaborate inauguration ceremonies in each JJ cluster. The slum clusters are considered a huge vote bank that could swing either party’s way and is expected to exert substantial influence in the 2013 Assembly elections.

Beside this,major infrastructure projects like new flyovers,an improved ISBT at Kashmere Gate and monorails are other promises being made by the government this year. In fact,a series of flyovers to de-congest Outer Ring Road and Ring Road have already been inaugurated. This includes the second phase of Barapullah Elevated Road and construction of an elevated stretch from Vikaspuri to Meera Bagh.

“We have asked for a date for the inauguration of ISBT at Kashmere Gate from the Chief Minister’s office. Also,a cabinet note for starting work on the monorail from Shastri Park to Trilokpuri is likely to be tabled within this month,” a government official said.

But when asked,Congress leaders asserted that the decisions were not political. “We cannot afford to play politics over such sensitive issues. The municipal corporations have been in charge of roads and toilets in JJ clusters,but no work has been done. Both these amenities are crucial and the people deserve better,” Urban Development (UD) Minister Arvinder Singh Lovely said.

According to the UD Minister,the government took the decision after receiving representations from MLAs,community leaders and Residential Welfare Associations (RWA).

A fuming BJP is now rethinking its poll strategies.

Mahendra Nagpal ,Leader of the House in the North Municipal Corporation,said the move was clearly aimed at sullying the BJP’s image. “We have opposed these decisions from the beginning. The government is lying to the people and claiming that they can do a better job than the corporations. But this is abuse of power,” Nagpal said.

According to a senior BJP leader,it is up to the BJP to explain this to the electorate.

“People think about roads and sanitation and the municipal corporations come to mind. So whatever the Congress does,the BJP will be blamed. We are now considering a massive drive to inform the people about all this,” he said.

A councillor from the South Municipal Corporation has already begun the process.

“I have started making copies of the government’s orders that show roads and sanitation are under the city government. Soon,I will start distributing them among the people. As a councillor,I face the people who come to my office with complaints of bad roads and poor toilets in slum clusters,” he said.

But many in the corporations feel that the government’s attempt to weaken the corporations’ hold over the city’s amenities using such tactics will not work. In fact,the hasty decision of the Congress-led government to trifurcate MCD in 2012,eventually backfired.

“The trifurcation of MCD was done in so much haste that it has actually led to setbacks in the functioning of the corporations. We are facing shortage of staff at the headquarters. Many senior officials here hold additional charge and are in meetings all the time. We were known to be one of the better corporations as far as e-governance was concerned,but after trifurcation,that is no longer the case,” North corporation Mayor Meera Aggarwal said.

Aggarwal further said,“North corporation started on a deficit of Rs 790 crore. Revenue is still a major concern for both North and East corporations. The government should have ensured that basic infrastructure was in place before they trifurcated the MCD. But they just wanted to do it before the civic polls.”

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