At the Express Adda held in Mumbai last week,Sheila Dikshit,Chief Minister of Delhi,not only brought deep insight into big-city administration for Mumbai perpetually troubled by traffic snarls and steep rentals but also the challenges that India faces over the next 20 years. In a freewheeling conversation with Uday Shankar,CEO of Star India and Shekhar Gupta,Editor-in-Chief of The Express Group,presented by Reid & Taylor in association with Olive Bar & Kitchen,Dikshit candidly admitted that just some years ago,Delhiites dreamed that the national capital should be a city like Mumbai. Corporate India listened in awe as she recounted how she overcame her challenges.
Dikshit,74,passionately in love with Delhi,suggested that Mumbai could try its hands at the bhagidari model of governance,with NGOs and resident associations working closely with the state. She is convinced that big cities can be better managed if split into more municipalities a decision Delhi took recently. The two states are primarily different,she said,but then,India must take the leap and plan mega-city states that will not just offer better job prospects but also a superior quality of life
New Delhi has just completed 100 years and,out of those,I have lived there for 74. I have this identity,affinity and love for Delhi that very few have. I am not just the CM,I am passionately in love with Delhi. The 19th century of India belonged to Calcutta,the 20th to Bombay and the 21st belongs to Delhi. I am proud of the fact that the Delhi Metro has completed 192 km and,in the next three or four years,it will be 320 km,moving on towards Gurgaon and Noida. We have both the advantage and disadvantage of these satellite towns,it has taken a lot of burden off us but it has also put a lot of burden on us. I shudder to think what Delhi would have been if it did not have Noida or Gurgaon.
To quote Mark Tully,There are no full stops in Delhi. It constantly needs to grow,its affluence is both a matter of pride and worry. The only answer is that we must build more cities so people dont have to migrate to our cities. Five lakh people come into Delhi every year; kahan rahenge,kitna pani istamaal karenge,kahan se bijli paida hogi,kitni sadake layenge,kahan pe garbage le kar jayenge? Should a poor labourer have to come to Delhi? I know in Delhi there is already talk that they arent getting enough construction labourers. Probably because UP is developing to some extent. I would hate Delhi to be a dead city,it is very vibrant,and culturally and language-wise very rich,but it has got only that much land. It is worrying and we have to think of 20 years from now and not just today.
Changing the face of transportation in Delhi: CNG and Metro
We spent about a year-and-a-half trying to make the transition with the Supreme Court order,not knowing when we will go to jail. There was petrol and diesel before,but no CNG. The two big producers of buses in India Leyland and Tata were not ready for CNG as they had to change their engines. There were not enough pipelines to bring CNG cylinders to the city. It took us two years and it brought great change to Delhi. Getting CNG was a bigger challenge than even the Metro.
The Metro was a miraculous thing that we managed to do. Both the Central and state governments had decided that it has to be done by a corporation with no government interference. We were lucky enough to get a person like E Sreedharan who had done a wonderful job of Konkan Railway. We took him on and gave him entire freedom.
On Delhis commuting woes
I cannot say that we have overcome the problem of transport. We have got 70 lakh cars in the Delhi area. But the government cant stop people from purchasing cars. We are lucky that theroads are wide and not always congested. Traffic is a huge problem and,in a years time,we will have more parking spaces because parking is the answer. We have to make parking expensive and make it three to five times more expensive than in parking lots. But that is our next battle.
One issue on which we failed to convince the richer people is the Bus Rapid Transport (BRT). We did 12 km of it and then it collapsed again and again. The people against it are car owners. The cyclists and bus passengers are very happy with it but nobody takes up the voice of this 80 per cent. Unless you bring systems like BRT to cities like Delhi,Mumbai,Kolkata and Chennai,you wont have the kind of traffic discipline you need for everyones convenience.
On Delhi being labelled as the rape capital
It is very disturbing,shocking,hurting and painful to say that you are not just the capital of India but also the rape capital and crime capital of India. I feel a little hesitant to say this but I do feel what about the responsibility of society and family? I wonder whether we,as a society,have gone wrong somewhere or is it that it has always been the case and people are just getting to know about it now because of a vigilant media. Yes,there is a feeling of discomfort among the women of Delhi that they are not safe here which is not so in Mumbai,Ahmedabad and Kolkata. This is something we need to correct very fast and very soon. Police say that the numbers and statistics have improved but I dont know. The porous borders are a huge disadvantage but it is not an excuse. It is worrying,we are trying and the police is trying but I dont think we are succeeding.
Lessons on civic governance for Mumbai
We took a very big and bold step which I think would be a good idea for Mumbai too. We broke up our municipality into four municipalities and one cantonment board which is something that is going to affect how Delhi looks as a city. According to me,what really helped us grow faster is the system of bhagidari,started a decade ago,where we have not only elected representatives but also NGOs and resident associations coming together with the government. Very recently,we have been giving each of our 12 deputy commissioners Rs 5 crore each,which they will spend every year on what the citizens would like to have depending on their priorities street lights,better sewage,gardens,flyovers,schools,dispensaries or community. I also do video conferencing with them every two months to know what is it that they want.
On the need for special attention to the development of cities
Prithviraj Chavan looks after Maharashtra and I look after Delhi and there is a huge difference. He has a huge rural belt and agriculture is his priority. Even Nitish has the whole of Bihar to look after and not just Patna. Agriculture in Delhi is 1% and even that will be over in a few days. So,I am primarily an urban face.
I dont know whether we will have the courage or mandate to do this but we need to have city-states like Delhi. Cities such as Delhi and Mumbai are very attractive and people come here to earn a living,and the housing available to them is just not adequate.
On Rajiv and Sonia Gandhi
I think Sonia Gandhi is entitled to be what she is,like all of us are. You may call her an enigma,someone else may call her something,I call her a very understanding person. Where Rajiv Gandhi is concerned,it is his governance that really brought India to the 21st century. He came at a time when it was difficult for us in India. He was a little ahead of his time,a straightforward person,and he didnt understand or appreciate or get into the machinations of politics which is common these days.
On FDI in retail
As a person,I would welcome FDI. About 30-40 per cent of vegetables and perishable goods in Delhi go waste. Now,if FDI comes,refrigeration was there and they were properly marketed,it would save the country 30-40 per cent of what it is losing today. It is a revolution taking place in the country. In India,we have to get on to modern technology and means. Delhi has seven to eight fruit,vegetable,grain and flower markets. Now,if all those had refrigeration,we wouldnt be wasting the kind of food we are wasting now. A kg of tomato that costs Rs 10 in the morning comes down to Rs 2 in the evening due to lack of refrigeration.
Supermarkets have become a part of life. It is a revolution. I dont know if,when you are moving ahead,it is a good or bad thing,that,time alone will tell. There are many supermarkets in Delhi and people find it much more convenient to go there. The prices and quality is good because there is competition. In Punjab,for instance,farmers have earned a lot of money through this FDI,they get good seeds and their agricultural products are picked up.
Transcribed by Vishal Manve