I came to Delhi in 1995, after completing my training as an IRS officer, on my first posting as assistant commissioner of Income Tax.
I had not imagined in my wildest dreams that I would fight elections in the national capital. But over the last 20 years, I have worked in Delhi as a bureaucrat, an activist, a politician and briefly as chief minister of this unique city state.
At a personal level, my parents, my children and my better half have stood by me in these phases of transition in life and never complained about the disturbance in their daily lives. For a person like me, born in a village about 150 kilometres from Delhi, this city has always held a fascination.
A national capital conveys the image of a country to the world and I feel a lot needs to be done to make Delhi a truly modern city, where residents live with pride, irrespective of their religious identities and cultural roots. Some recent developments have been disturbing, but I am confident there is no place for retrograde and divisive views in today’s Delhi.
India is governed from Delhi, and I feel that the political class needs to give back to the city that offers them so much. I feel sad and angry when I read of rapes or other crimes against women. It is a shame that we have failed to make even our capital city safe for women — the heartrending account of a young rape victim, published in this paper (‘See something, say something’, IE, January 1), is an eye-opener for what is wrong with the city. It is yet another wake-up call for decision-makers and those in positions of power, before it is too late.
There are so many cities around the world where women walk safely on the roads even at midnight. Why can’t we make Delhi safe for women? I am confident that is possible. My party has come up with a detailed plan to make Delhi safer. We would instal CCTV cameras in all public places. Any potential culprit would then know that he could get recorded and thus caught. We would provide a security guard in every bus.
If anyone misbehaves with a woman in the bus, that person will be caught on the spot. We would also provide a “security button” on each mobile phone. If any woman got stuck in an unpleasant situation, she could press that button and the police would get to know her exact location. They could reach her within minutes and save her. Many more steps need to be taken to make Delhi a safe place for women.
When we used to shout slogans for a “Bhrashtacharmukt Bharat” during the Anna days, there was always a doubt in some corner of our minds as to whether it was possible to achieve that dream. Many people would say that Indians are born corrupt and corruption is in our DNA. I did not believe that. Today, our strongest critics admit that bribery levels came down substantially during the 49 days of our government. Most of the government departments started working without bribes.
It has become fashionable to talk about “ease of doing business”. But has any party taken concrete steps to make the businessman’s life simpler? During the Congress regime, the VAT department of Delhi used to conduct 200 raids every month. Under the BJP now, the number of raids has gone up further.
During our regime, we stopped all raids. By the earlier logic, tax collections should have decreased drastically. On the contrary, we had record tax collections in Delhi for the quarter when our government was in place. We collected Rs 5,666 crore in tax, Rs 1,000 crore more than in the previous quarter and Rs 2,000 crore more than in the next quarter.
And this record collection was at a time when the overall economy was not doing well. We just believed in our traders. I assured trade associations that no inspector from any department would harass them. In return, I asked them to help meet tax collection targets. We therefore took concrete steps to improve “ease of doing business”.
Delhi has one of the highest VAT rates in the country. Our government would reduce these rates to the lowest in the country. That would bring more trade to Delhi. More trade would mean more jobs. Lower tax rates would also improve compliance and thus increase tax collections. Finally, a lower tax rate would help reduce inflation. We would also ensure that if anyone wishes to set up a new business in Delhi, he gets all the clearances within a prescribed time.
Today, you get the best education and health facilities in Delhi if you have the money. They have become so expensive that good quality education and healthcare are out of the reach of even most middle-class families. The private sector needs to be regulated. The rules of the game need to be laid down and strictly enforced. The government also needs to play a more proactive role. The condition of government schools and hospitals is quite pathetic. It is quite possible to improve the quality of services in the government sector, provided you have
the right “neeyat” or intention.
I favour the role of the private sector in power. But no one would argue that the private sector ought not to be made accountable and transparent. It should not resist any kind of audit. It is possible to provide 24-hour electricity in Delhi at affordable rates.
The city is home to roughly two crore people. All these people meet their daily water needs from somewhere or the other. If there were actually a huge scarcity in water, as is made out, a lot of people would leave Delhi. But all two crore people have adequate water for drinking, cooking, toilets, washing and cleaning.
It is just that this water does not reach their taps. They have to “manage” water from illegal sources every day. So, Delhi’s water problem is less of scarcity, more of management.
We can make Delhi a truly world-class city. It is also possible to make it the first corruption-free city of India. It is possible to provide it with the best infrastructure, good, affordable education and health services for all sections of society, 24-hour power supply at cheap rates, potable water from taps and much more.
Before our 49 days in government, we were driven by a lot of romanticism and a strong belief in our cause and ideology. Today, after having worked in government, we are confident that change is possible if you have the right “neeyat”.
The writer is a former chief minister of Delhi and national convenor of the Aam Aadmi Party.