THE STAGE was set and nameplates were placed neatly in order. By 4.15 pm, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, Union MoS (Housing and Urban Affairs) Hardeep Singh Puri, Chief Secretary Anshu Prakash and DMRC managing director Mangu Singh took their seats.
In the next five minutes, Kejriwal and Puri jointly flagged the first train on the 21.56-km Pink Line, between Majlis Park and Durgabai Deshmukh South Campus. With this line, the total length of the Metro network has reached over 250 km.
Singh was the first to speak, and Japanese Ambassador Kenji Hiramatsu the second. Both of them charted the Metro’s journey — and its achievements.
Next up was Kejriwal. “Mujhe poora yakeen hai ki jab Hardeep Puri saab bolenge, toh kya kya mudde uthaenge, main uska jawab de deta hu (I am sure of the issues Puri will raise, let me answer them),” Kejriwal said, minutes into his speech, to a cheer from the audience.
Over the next 10 minutes, he touched on contentious issues — the pending clearance of Metro’s Phase IV, procurement of more coaches, last year’s fare hike and sharing of losses. Prakash did not figure in Kejriwal’s speech, or among those he greeted at the beginning.
Kejriwal said that the proposal on Phase IV expansion had been pending with the Delhi government for a while, but “I want to emphasise that we are committed to Metro’s expansion”.
“We will clear the proposal on procurement of rolling stock (coaches) very soon. The second proposal is on Phase IV. Of the six proposed routes, a few are not financially viable. We also know that financial viability is not the only criteria when it comes to public transport, but questions will be raised if there is no traffic on that route,” he said.
The CM said that Delhi government officers have conducted a study and were now in the process of calculating what impact clearing the proposal, as it stands now, might have on the “overall fare structure of Metro”.
As tension built, Kejriwal switched gears and reminded Puri that he had promised to meet “over lunch”. “We will sort everything out over lunch. We can clear the viable routes and the unviable ones can be postponed,” he said.
Next on his plate was equal sharing of Metro’s revenue-sharing model. Kejriwal claimed that “two-three years back” certain changes were brought in rules which forced the state to share all the losses the corporation makes. The Delhi government and the Union government have equal stake in the DMRC.
“I do not know if Hardeep ji is aware or not… we are 50-50 partners… Sir, Centre is rich, we are poor,” Kejriwal said before touching on the issue of fare hike, which had triggered a political firestorm last year. “Sir, kiraya jyada ho gaya thoda… I believe if we sit together, we can bring it down. I am not blaming anyone, there should not be any fingerpointing.”
Puri began by saying he was not going to raise any questions. “But now that you have raised some questions, I should answer them.” In between, Union Minister Harsh Vardhan briefly spoke and stressed on the need to avoid politics in Metro’s affairs.
Puri suggested that the fare hike was necessary to maintain DMRC’s “world-class assets”. “A decision was taken to keep away pricing from the hands of the state and Centre. Whether we admit it or not, we are vulnerable to pressures of people who we serve… I could not have deferred the decision even if I wanted. I have no power to influence the fare fixation committee’s decisions,” he said.
However, Puri said he has dicussed with the DMRC chief on the need to provide rebates to senior citizens and students by tech intervention. “…There should be no hike next year. The DMRC should also look at raising revenue through advertisements, property development,” he said.