The first of Arvind Kejriwal’s planned daily janta durbars collapsed an hour after it started Saturday, after a heaving crowd of over 20,000 people threatened to physically swamp the chief minister and his cabinet colleagues, and the meeting teetered on the edge of disintegrating into complete chaos.
Kejriwal and Urban Development Minister Manish Sisodia were forced to retreat into the secretariat building about an hour after the durbar started at 9 am, leaving the other ministers attempting to hear the people’s complaints.
The chief minister said he was in danger of being crushed by the crowd, and announced that the durbar was being suspended until the government was able to plan better and put proper arrangements in place.
Standing on the roof of the reception wing of the secretariat, Kejriwal told the crowd behind police barricades: “I accept that there were problems with the arrangements. I am deeply sorry that we could not listen to all your problems. People climbed on to the chair and table at which I was seated, and I could have been crushed if I had not left… We will come back to you with full arrangements and have another janta durbar in four to five days.”
“When the crowd became unmanageable, there were two options before me, either to resort to a lathicharge or to talk to the people. I chose the second option. Next time we will have the janta durbar at a stadium,” he said.
The chief minister had announced that the entire cabinet would sit outside the Delhi secretariat every Saturday to listen to the people’s grievances, and would attempt to solve the urgent problems on the spot. Every weekday, a minister would receive grievances from the public.
A large proportion of the people who thronged the road outside the Delhi government headquarters were contract workers seeking permanent jobs.
Kejriwal said: “I realise that the maximum grievances are among contractual workers from BSES, Asha workers, teachers. I assure you that we have taken note of your complaints.
“On Monday I will ask all departments for data on the number of contractual staff, and why they cannot be made permanent. They will submit a report in a week, and I will try to take a decision in a month. You have waited for so many years, give me this much time.”
He also requested them not to come back at the next janta durbar, so that other complaints could be heard.
The chief minister and six cabinet ministers sat in the open outside the secretariat along with senior officials, as people began handing in their complaints. Health Minister Satyendra Jain, whose mother passed away on Saturday morning, was not present.
Each person was given a slip to confirm the receipt of his complaint. Officials at the help desk said those who had supplied their mobile phone numbers would receive a confirmation SMS. \”All written complaints will be put up on our web site and the status of action taken on the complaint will be constantly updated,” an official said.
Barely 15 minutes into the durbar, however, the crowd — Kejriwal said there were 5,000 people against an expected 500, while police sources said at least 20,000 people had turned up — turned unruly. Delhi Police and Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) personnel struggled to manage the crowd, which broke the barricades at some places. The entire stretch of road from ITO to Rajghat was closed, and barricades were erected on the divider so that people could occupy one carriageway.
Some 300-400 police personnel were present outside the secretariat. “There was seating arrangement for 1,000 people outside the secretariat, but a much larger crowd turned up, leading to the chaos,” a police officer said.
Several people returned disappointed. “I had come here in the hope of getting relief from my problems. But I was pushed around, and I am leaving after having waited for five hours. I wanted to meet the CM to seek a job for my physically handicapped son. There is no one to look after his needs after I retire,” said M S Kaushik.