On the cusp of history

It is safe to presume that when Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party promised in its manifesto to the Delhi Assembly elections that providing free water and electricity to the citizens of Delhi would be among its priorities, it had hoped that such a promise would enable it to win a few seats to function as a pressure group on whoever came to power. But, the peculiar circumstances of the outcome of the elections – with both the Congress and the BJP failing to get majority – unexpectedly put the AAP straightaway in the hot seat, forcing it to take a call on the grandiose promises it had made to the people of Delhi.

On assuming charge as chief minister, had Kejriwal not been so hot-headed and weighed the responsibility his office carried, he would have called a meeting of his think tank to discuss the issues over two or three days to come up with a roadmap for his government over the next six months. After all, having taken the gamble of supporting the AAP ‘unconditionally’ from outside, the Congress was in no position to pull the plug immediately. With the Lok Sabha elections barely four months away, nor could the BJP take the risk of toppling the AAP government and incurring the wrath of the people. Expectedly, the AAP has won the confidence vote with the Congress voting in its favour, and there is no danger to its stability at least for the next six months.

Being a completely new experiment in Indian politics, the Kejriwal government has raised huge expectations as manifest in over a lakh of people turning up at the new government’s swearing-in ceremony at Ram Lila maidan and millions of others watching it on television across the country. It did not mean that Kejriwal was required to deliver on his party’s promises within a fortnight.

But obviously, Kejriwal is a man in a hurry, a tearing hurry. Doing away with the red-beacon cars and ministerial bungalows and undue security paraphernalia may suit the Aam Aadmi’s image as a common man’s party, (though he has revised his stand on official car and bungalow subsequently), but Kejriwal’s extremely hasty decisions to offer ‘free’ water and power supply to sections of Delhites, reeks of rank opportunism, clever manipulation of public sentiment, administrative dishonesty and shallow economic sense.

Take the case of water supply. The AAP has announced the supply of 667 litres of water free of charge every day to 17 lakh households in Delhi with metered connections for the next three months. Water consumption exceeding the limit even by a few litres will attract billing for the whole supply in the next slab of 20-30 kl at Rs 870, which will proportionately increase as the consumption goes up.

Misuse of scheme

The first problem with this formula is that nearly 52 per cent of Delhi population has no access to piped water, and these people being mostly poor, do not get the benefit of free supply.

 Secondly, over seven lakh households are still dependent on tanker supply of water and they continue to be at the mercy of tanker mafia who charge exorbitant rates. Thirdly, it is only the middle class and the upper classes having piped water connections who stand to benefit from the scheme, even though they can afford to pay. Fourthly, as there is no fool-proof system of meter reading, there is a vast scope for misuse of the scheme in the name of ‘aam aadmi.’

Kejriwal has not bothered to explain how and where he will find the crores of rupees required to implement the scheme. And how he will find the resources for the maintenance of pipelines, the reservoirs, the purification process and the administrative expenses.

The other major decision of the AAP government on power supply subsidy is also equally disastrous. Kejriwal has announced that from Jan 1, 2014, people of Delhi will get 50 per cent subsidy on power consumption. Households consuming up to 200 units would pay Rs 1.95 per unit against the existing rate of Rs 3,90. In the next slab of 201 to 400 units, the consumers would pay Rs 2.90 per unit against the existing rate of Rs 5.80. No subsidy would be given on power consumption above 400 units.

The subsidy scheme has been limited up to March 2014 and Kejriwal himself admits that the three month subsidy will cost the exchequer Rs 200 crore and obviously, it will shoot up to Rs 800 crore for the whole year. The chief minister has simultaneously asked the CAG to audit the accounts of the independent power distribution companies in the hope of discovering excessive claims and thereby reducing the burden on the state. But he has not bothered about power theft, which is rampant, expecially by the well-to-do, power leakages which result in huge losses, the need for investment to improve the system and so on.

Are these the samples of ‘good governance’ that Kejriwal promised? How are they different from the most inefficient, corruption-ridden ‘subsidy raj’ that the Congress-led UPA government has practiced over the last one decade, which has hardly benefited the aam aadmi who form 80 per cent of the population?  Was Kejriwal driven by the desperation to do “the maximum good in 48 hours,” as he harboured a suspicion that the Congress and the BJP will conspire to defeat him in the confidence vote? 

Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party -- thanks to an image of a party with persons of integrity, honesty and a zeal to fight corruption -- carries the hope of the nation. Now that they have won the confidence vote, they should stop being fly-by-night operators and settle down to give a good, responsible government. Whether they realise it or not, they are on the cusp of history and they cannot afford to let themselves and the people of the country down. 

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