Yes, you have won and congratulations! From now on, Delhi will watch your every move — no longer as a chief ministerial aspirant but as the face of government. The euphoria will be heady and Delhi’s expectations high. Here for your consideration is some well-intentioned advice. First, please re-read the Constitution before you open your innings because understanding it must determine everything else you do.
The Constitution 69th Amendment Act passed in 1991, whose Article 239 AA almost made Delhi a full state — but stopped short. While excluding the entries relating to police, public order and land, the amendment stipulated that the legislative assembly “shall have power to make laws for the whole or any part of the National Capital Territory, with respect to any of the matters included in the State List or the Concurrent List” — which means 47 entries on the State List and 64 on the Concurrent List. Sounds great. But a caveat that follows also states that any law made by the legislative assembly, if repugnant to a law made by Parliament, would be void. So, while you can pass bills, they will not become law without the approval of the Central government.
For the same reason, your promise to get full statehood for Delhi and bring police and law and order under the control of its government is destined to remain just that — a promise, as Article 239AA of the Constitution expressly precludes the government of Delhi from control on the subjects of land, police and public order. Howsoever undemocratic, there is no alternative to amending the Constitution to change that. And that is simply not going to happen — in the foreseeable future. It would be prudent to circumscribe your promise right now because even if Delhi is on your side, the Constitution will prevail.
Then there is your promise to give swaraj to the mohalla sabhas. This will run into trouble because of two factors. First, while the Delhi Assembly is competent to pass the law, it would necessarily have to be sent to the ministry of urban development for approval to see that there is no repugnancy with the Municipal Corporation Act 1957. And the concept of mohalla sabhas is indeed repugnant to the act. It might be better to think this through before unfurling the flag of swaraj.
You have once again made a commitment to halve electricity bills and provide 700 litres of free water, along with comprehensive sanitation. The city has almost doubled its consumption in the last five years. Delhi’s per capita consumption is the highest and far above the national average. While audits must continue and the performance and billing of the discoms kept under scrutiny, some basics cannot be disregarded. The city purchases around 80 per cent of its power needs from the public sector power-generating companies across the country. Power costs have soared and if consumers do not pay for what they consume, it will ruin the efficiency of the systems, whether owned by the government or the distribution companies. Summer’s spiralling demand will take its toll by way of broken cables, burnt transformers and toppled electricity towers — something you will have to take the flak for. Instead of pampering spoilt consumers, fight for greater competition and more choice. Here, neither the Constitution nor the Central government can play the spoiler. Instead of subsidies, which are retrograde, re-invent your promise and return to the consumer whatever she conserves over the same period in the previous year.
The same applies to water and sewage. Unless people pay the essential maintenance cost, the systems will collapse. The promise of giving free water would dissuade over 4,00,000 people who have no meters today from ever acquiring them, making it impossible to measure either utilisation or wastage — two essentials for improving efficiency. Instead, legislate and enforce rainwater harvesting and levy heavy penalties for wastage. Ballpark figures also show that only half the sewage in Delhi is treated. Failure to levy sewage charges will affect essential maintenance and cause public health hazards. A party with a difference cannot be that irresponsible.
Discord lies in the Delhi Development Authority’s (DDA) announcement of land pooling for setting up Smart cities. Whereas the acquisition and zonal planning of such land would fall under the DDA, entrusting appurtenant development to external or private entities as envisaged would leave the Delhi government out of the loop. The land pooling policy has been announced by the DDA on the ground that it is responsible for implementing the Master Plan 2021 and it will storm ahead. It is questionable whether schools, health centres, roads and water supply can remain outside the purview of the city government for too long. Bringing the DDA under the chairmanship of the chief minister would provide a formal mechanism for harmonisation, without affecting the provisions concerning the Central government. This clear recommendation from the second Administrative Reforms Commission is low-hanging fruit.
As you reward your core support base, you will reach out to the migrant and underprivileged population groups living on the outskirts, in the slums and in unauthorised colonies. But in doing so, it will affect the provision of services to the original residents of the city who have paid their taxes and looked forward to orderly growth. You would do well to balance the interests of core supporters with the rights of the original residents who pay taxes, obey the law and never grudge paying either electricity or water bills. They too have entitlements.
To achieve anything, resources are needed — and Delhi’s budget is already circumscribed by several constraints. Half the budget is spent on salaries and “non-plan” expenditure, which excludes development schemes and infrastructure projects. The rest goes to transport, health and education, water supply, housing and urban development, energy, social security and welfare sectors — none of which is fungible. Eighty five per cent of the budget comes from taxes and only 15 per cent from plan assistance and other non-tax revenue. You have promised to reduce VAT, which accounts for 67 per cent of the revenues. Unlike full-fledged states, Delhi cannot borrow from the market or levy a cess.
It is for you to choose which way to go. Delhi, India and the world are watching.
The writer is a former secretary to the government of India and former chief secretary, Delhi.