'AAP obsessed with graft and sending people to jail'

Interview

Just 15 days into power, the AAP government in Delhi is creating headlines, both positive and negative. Questions are raised on their style of functioning by critics who say AAP is governing the state like a municipality. Shemin Joy of Deccan Herald spoke to Shailaja Chandra, retired chief secretary, Delhi, on AAP's governance model and administrative vision.

Excerpts: 

You have an insider's view of how a government functions. How do you view AAP promises? 

Their agenda appears to be to do something on corruption. For a citizen, the fact was that he was not getting his due, whether it is price rise or the fact that he was made to move from here to there and ultimately you have to give money to get things done. The promise that the AAP will try and get rid of corruption as their first issue made sense. But, I don't think they can achieve things on a large-scale through volunteers and all. The best way would have been to use technology to reduce public interface. It can contain corruption in public offices. 

The AAP promised reduction in power prices and 700 litres of free water every day. But it has resorted to subsidies to implement its promises.

They were saying there was large-scale corruption as well as inflation in projection of cost of power and that they were certain they would be able to transform the sector and bring down the prices through savings. Initially, that made sense. I am not sure how all things will fall in place as quickly as they want. Now they have opted for subsidy. Subsidies in power sector have been there in rural areas. In case of urban India, this was not a phenomenon. Subsidy obviously comes out of the budget, which is already earmarked for many things. I do not know how they will balance the budget. It means that they will have to prune on something. The effect of that will be known only when people stop getting some services they are accustomed to. 

The fear is that it will have an impact on the exchequer. 

There will be an impact. Unlike, say Mumbai or other state capitals, Delhi gets to keep what it earns through taxes. So to that extent, Delhi is in a much more comfortable position. But definitely there should have to be some tightening somewhere else if you want to give these kinds of subsidies. 

On water, the question is if you want efficiency and conservation, resources have to be used in a rational way. Subsidy is not the route. The real route would be, in case of water, to see that piped connections are given to all people who do not have it, metered connections to all those who do not have meters. If subsidy is to be given, it should be given to the lower strata. 

Do you think that the AAP is still chained to their Jan Lokpal agitation mindset? Do you think that they have an administrative vision? 

I don't think that they have expressed any long-term administrative or political position. They are very pleased that voters have voted for them in large numbers. When you talk about urban areas, the aspirations of people are that they should be able to do better. To do that, one needs a long-term vision. I do not see this in the AAP’s present approach. Their preoccupation seems to be with corruption and being able to find people who are corrupt and sending them to jail, trying to frighten people into working and making it clear that they will be punished if they are found wanting or taking bribes.  

How do you see the controversies on official bungalows, car and security? Do you think there is a flawed notion about austerity and governance? 

People are upset with the ‘red beacon’ syndrome. The public’s feeling is that I elected you and you will have to listen to me. I think the AAP has tried to respond to these sentiments. So initially, they dispense with secretaries, they start using volunteers, they start doing all these by working in a very informal way. It may be all right for some time. I think the very process of government requires that files are disposed of. Everything cannot remain on this symbolic plane of houses and security and all. Those are very small things compared with the totality of the work the government administers.

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