Delhi Education and Urban Development minister Manish Sisodia defends sting operations as a tool to fight corruption, even as he counters charges of vigilantism, regionalism and being anti any party. This Idea Exchange was moderated by Special Correspondent Apurva.
Apurva: Manish Sisodia started off as a television producer, moved to the NGO sector, joined a movement that stopped Delhi for a while, and now he’s a minister. What has the transition been like?
I used to read Premchand, imbibing the pain inherent in his works. I left my village years ago, came to Delhi and worked for Times FM. I was a popular radio jockey. Watch video
Once, a literary personality asked me, ‘What do you do?’. I thought to myself, ‘He doesn’t know that I am a star’. He asked me again, ‘What else do you do?’. For the first time, I realised that there’s a world beyond FM radio. This prompted me to do a course in journalism. As a journalist, we observe things that are not right, but don’t have solutions for it. The search for solutions took me to people like Anna Hazare, Arvind Kejriwal, Aruna Roy, who were working for society. I left journalism in 2005. While using the Right to Information Act, we felt that something more was required. Arvind and I studied several models of decentralisation. A number of RTI activists were murdered, forcing us to think about protection for whistleblowers. We then moved towards the need for a Lokpal Bill. There was a Bill lying with Parliament. We studied that and drafted our own. The movement headed forward; a party was formed. But there is no one point where we can say that we started thinking in a certain way.
Dilip Bobb: How do you rate your first few weeks in the government?
Whatever we could do in the first 15 days, we have done our best. Watch video
Apurva: The common charge is that the government has been moving too fast.
In many things, it is too late. For instance, on corruption, if we don’t take decisions fast, it will lead to more corruption.
Abantika Ghosh: Do you think a lot of your announcements have been impulsive? You say there will be a 50 per cent reduction in power bills; then you say, no we will have to discuss it. You started off with Jan Sunwai and then said, we can’t continue with it. Are you still in a movement mode?
We are not taking back anything with regard to power bills. The subsidy on power bills is only one step. The ultimate solution is an honest audit of power companies. Regarding Jan Sunwai, initially the idea was that we will meet people sitting in front of the Secretariat. But we did not expect so many people to turn up. Watch video
Geeta Gupta: There are people who haven’t paid their electricity bills for months. That is against the law.
There is a need to review it. We had said that electricity bills were inflated, we must protest against it. Democracy empowers everyone. But if, for instance, I go to Jantar Mantar and am accused of riots there, I should be ready to face the consequences. Watch video
Pragya Kaushika: Arvind Kejriwal said on the first day, ‘We take back your water, power bills and cases against you, you don’t need to pay them’. What happened the next day which made him say, ‘No decision has been taken as yet’?
Kejriwal has said that a review needs to be done in earlier cases. Watch video
Pritha Chatterjee: Kejriwal had said at the Secretariat that people who haven’t paid their bills since March 23 last year, and not those who haven’t paid for three or four years, will be given a respite, as they were part of the andolan or movement.
He meant that there is a need to review this.
Pritha Chatterjee: As soon as you formed the government, you started a volunteer vigilance in hospitals and schools. Volunteers were monitoring work there. In hospitals, it was like a parallel administration. Aren’t you taking the volunteer vigilance too far?
If anyone resorts to dadagiri because we are from the ruling party, it’s unacceptable. But it is important for society to get involved. Your paper has written that AAP volunteers visited schools. They are not AAP, but education volunteers; some of them are from AAP. I spoke to Education Department officials who said that things were going on really well. It is not as bad as you are saying. These volunteers are very concerned citizens; they are educated people. I have told them that they don’t have any authority over anyone. They will simply act as my eyes and ears. They will observe and tell me that in this school, the toilet door is broken; they will not ask the principal about it. I only require information. Beyond that, it’s the Education Department’s job to fix the problem. There is a positive feedback from parents; they are happy that changes are taking place in schools. Watch video
Ruhi Bhasin: What is the status on the draft Jan Lokpal Bill?
It is almost ready. By January end-February first week, we will call a session and pass it.
Pragya Kaushika: We are told that you are creating 10 secretariats in one ward and there will be 2,720 secretariats in the city. Can you elaborate?
I went to a Haryana panchayat. The gram sabha said that we made several proposals and took it to the collector, but he said this is rubbish, you have to purchase a camera. Those people went back to him with a proposal for a camera. I can give you thousands of such examples. Mohalla sabhas have a lot of work — from looking after sanitation to repairing pavements and so on. All these can be solved at the mohalla level. We have unnecessarily given it to higher-ups and increased their burden.
Coomi Kapoor: What is the bureaucracy’s reaction to your government?
It is a mixed one. There are a few who are happy. There are others who, after being given work that should not take more than four hours, are unable to complete it even after four days. Many a times, I tell them, ‘If you can’t do it, let me know and I will get it done’. They fear that I will gather volunteers and get the work done.
Abhishek chakraborty: How are you going to use the large number of people joining AAP?
I’m not going to use them. They have to use themselves for the country. They have to plan.
Rakesh Sinha: Do you see a breaking point in your ties with the Congress if you start probing cases where their leaders maybe involved?
We are not worried about the government. We had said that we don’t want support, whoever wants to support, can support. People involved in corruption will have to face the consequences. It applies to our leaders as well.
D K Singh: Where do you see yourself vis-a-vis the Left — left of the Left or ultra Left?
I don’t know. We are aam aadmi.
Dipankar Ghose: Why should ministers not accept security?
The State’s first priority is to give protection to the common man. If at some point the State feels that we can guarantee security to each and every person, then they can provide us security. Until then, we are against it, on principle. There’s so much security for a leader and when we want security for women, we’re told that there are no police pickets because there’s a shortage of personnel and the police are running on the 1997 sanctions. That’s not fair.
Monojit Majumdar: Your government has for the first time given sting operations the recognition of a government policy. You’ve been a reporter. Misrepresenting oneself, eliciting responses from someone by lying, at a time when the one in front doesn’t realise what he’s saying — doesn’t this strike you as ethically problematic considering you are a journalist? As a minister, this is your policy. But you wear both hats. At no point did this decision or similar decisions leading to the idea of telling the entire world to sting everyone strike as odd to you?
No, never. The success of democracy or law or policy or system depends on who enjoys the power. In a democracy, the common man should enjoy power. There are two-three powers that the common man has. One is vote, second is the right to information; the right to sting is another one. People said the same thing about the Right to Information Act. There was a time when it was thought that only the elite classes should have the right to vote. When you give rights to people, there will be consequences, there will be ifs and buts. If someone is complaining about corruption, and if that person has a tool, why not make it a policy? If someone conducts a sting operation, there’s a process after that and it is not the end.
Pritha Chatterjee: In your manifesto, women’s security was an important point. You had said that you would set up a commando force.
Commando was just a word. I insisted in my speeches that this wasn’t the same as Black Cats. It’ll be a sensitive wing. In a number of cases, the girl goes to the police to complain about molestation, and the police asks, ‘When did you go, why did you go, who did you go with’. Why should a woman face such questions? It’s because the police are not sensitive. Women should be legally empowered. They can then go to the police and say, ‘register a case under such and such CrPC, IPC’.
Kundan Jha*: Your manifesto says that you will give 90 per cent reservation to Delhi students in a Central university. Don’t you think this will distort the character of the Delhi University, which is a Central university?
Have you heard of any other Central university where affiliated colleges are being 100 per cent funded by the state government? The Delhi University is a Central university and it should be funded by the Central government. Today, 5,00,000 children come for nursery admissions. By the time they complete school education, this number comes down to 2,65,000. This is last year’s data.
As education minister, it’s my duty to take this number to five lakh. People from different states come to work in Delhi and educate their children here. You are able to provide for only 90,000 of the students who pass out from Delhi schools. For 1,75,000 children there’s no option but to go to fraud institutes running in every corner of the city. I found that Delhi’s higher education department was spending Rs 125 crore every year to fund Central university colleges. When I took out the history of these colleges, I realised that prior to 1995, there was a metropolitan council which didn’t have education under it. In 1993, it was decided that some colleges will be affiliated to the DU.
Colleges are running on money gathered from Delhi’s taxpayers. When I say that make space for those children who pass out from Delhi’s schools — 1,75,000 children for whom I am unable to find colleges — questions are raised about regionalism. That’s a wrong interpretation.
Abantika Ghosh: A debate was sparked off when Yogendra Yadav said he would like to see Kejriwal as PM and Kejriwal said, no. You have only one face that people across India connect to — your CM’s.
There are other faces. Tomorrow we may find a face better than Arvind’s, who can lead us on the issues we’re raising.
Krishna Uppuluri*: On Facebook, it’s being said that a number of people in AAP follow Communist ideology. Gopal Rai is a former member of the All India Students’ Association (AISA). By opposing FDI in retail, you have supported the Communists’ stand.
For me, things like ideology or isms are mere words. If life in Delhi is threatened by something, that’s more important than ideologies.
Ruhi Bhasin: As the Urban Development Minister, you said that the regularisation of a number of unauthorised colonies was only on paper. How are you going to ensure regularisation of 895 colonies? Also, a lot of houses for EWS haven’t been allotted till date.
We’ll try to begin some work on this front because not only have these houses not been allotted but they’ve also begun deteriorating. We’ll review it and take a decision soon. As far as unauthorised colonies are concerned, we have got 1,639 applications. These are applications, not colonies. The Central government guidelines on this are confusing. If we depend on those guidelines, even in the next 50 years these colonies will not be authorised. Until we do civic work, the parameters for authorisation won’t be completed.
D K Rituraj: Apart from the Lokpal Bill and Swaraj Bill, what other law reforms are you thinking of? And what schemes have you thought of within your party to stop corruption?
There’s Lokpal, Swaraj, and health. Not all of these will happen through legislation, some through policy and others through action. We have almost finished drafting an education bill.
A lot of people are joining AAP. There are numerous checks and balances for any position in the party and for elections. There’s screening and public scrutiny. During the Delhi Assembly polls, a person said that he had retired from X force. His name was screened, shortlisted, and put up on public domain. It was found that he had run away from that ‘force’. Another candidate, who finally didn’t get a ticket, had not mentioned that there was an FIR against him. When his name was put up for public scrutiny, a person came up with the FIR number.
Apurva: You have a candidate against Rahul Gandhi. Is there one against Sonia Gandhi?
No, not yet.
Pragya Kaushika: Vinod Kumar Binny has threatened to reveal a lot of things about AAP. Kejriwal has said that Binny had demanded a ministerial berth earlier, now wants a Lok Sabha ticket. Earlier, he had said that there’s no conflict over ministerial post.
I have been out and don’t know exactly what he said.
Abantika Ghosh: Your Amethi candidate has started campaigning. Do you think it’s sending the right message?
The official declaration hasn’t happened. But if someone is campaigning, how can he be stopped?
Aniruddha Ghosal: Kiran Bedi has said the reason she parted ways with you was because your movement changed from an anti-Congress movement to an anti-Congress, anti-BJP movement. She said that AAP is effectively ensuring that Narendra Modi doesn’t get a chance to form a stable government at the Centre.
I don’t know whether it’s an anti-Congress movement or not. It has always been an anti-corruption movement. A number of BJP people said that we’ve come for your movement, but we won’t give you vote. They thought that these guys would clear the wall and they would write BJP on it. We told them that we are going to write AAP on the wall. So, they’re having a problem now.
Ankita Mahendru*: Mallika Sarabhai is speaking out against Kumar Vishwas. Prashant Bhushan says something and Kejriwal has to clarify that; and now Binny. Do you think this can go against AAP in the Lok Sabha polls?
No attempt should be made to hide the truth. Our aim is not to be well-organised, but to create change.
Transcribed by Ruhi Bhasin and Aniruddha Ghosal
* These are EXIMS students