Now in her record third term, Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit will complete another year in office on December 17. In an interview to The Hindu on Tuesday she delved on various issues as also the priorities of her government, the uppermost being the upcoming Commonwealth Games in October 2010.
The Congress Government in Delhi has completed another year. But while the first part of the year went primarily in preparations for the Lok Sabha polls, in the latter the focus has been primarily on the Commonwealth Games. Do you see the Games preparations being completed on time?
I am sure we would have a successful event. Most of the preparations with respect to infrastructure would be completed by end of March 2010. While finishing works would go on till the very end, we would have completed all major works at least four months before the event.
Which are the major projects, you are most concerned about?
There are two. One is the Barapulla Elevated Road Project that would connect the Games Village to the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium that is the main sporting venue; and the other is the Salimgarh Fort Ring Road Bypass Project that would provide better movement of traffic near Indira Gandhi Stadium and to the sporting venues in Central and North Delhi. I often visit these sites at night and am told that work is progressing as per schedule.
With a number of hotels planned for the Games not coming up do you foresee a problem of accommodation?
No. In the Bed and Breakfast scheme, we have already got over 1,200 registrations and Paharganj and Karol Bagh, that have a large number of hotels, are being spruced up. We would have enough rooms by the Games.
The Delhi Metro railway is encountering a problem of shortage of coaches. Have you been helping it overcome this issue?
I have spoken to its Managing Director E. Sreedharan and he has assured me that they would be getting more coaches in the coming year and with that the problem of overcrowding would be addressed.
Are you happy with the way the Delhi Metro has expanded to neighbouring States?
Yes, it is good that more people are using it now. But I would have personally liked the Delhi Metro to have expanded fully within Delhi before venturing out. That would have been better for the people of Delhi.
The Bus Rapid Transit Corridor has undergone a shift from its original design to a new one. It is now being said by various groups that the old design was more pedestrian-friendly and mass-oriented. So will you be going back to it in other areas?
There was a lot of hue and cry by a section of the media over the original BRT design as some of their big bosses, who travel by cars, stayed in colonies along it. We have now adopted a new design and let people judge for themselves which one is better. But we would be adopting a refined version of the original BRT design in two of the new projects – one of which would connect Karawal Nagar.
The low-floor buses have drawn a lot of criticism of late. Is it all smoke and no fire?
When we decided to bring in these buses a couple of years ago, we were very clear in our minds that they were good for the people. They are more comfortable and disabled-friendly. Also, the Transport Minister Arvinder Singh Lovely has mentioned how we have bought them at the lowest rates and how they have brought down the per km operating and maintenance cost of DTC.
But are these buses okay for the bumpy roads of Outer Delhi?
I have directed the officials to ply these low-floor buses in the urban areas and to push the older higher chassis buses into the outer areas. Also, too much of dust and bumps are not be good for these buses. The roads in outer areas are being improved in the meantime.
The Delhi Government has been criticised for raising bus and metro fares, power and water tariffs and taxes when people were already reeling under severe price rise?
A Government only increases tariffs and taxes when it becomes absolutely necessary. We have not increased power tariffs but only withdrawn a subsidy. The water rates have been rationalised and still you pay only 10 paise for a bucket of water. The bus system has been modernised and so there was a need to rationalise the fare structure as well.
Multiplicity of authority is a problem that afflicts Delhi? You have been seeking more powers through control of the Delhi Development Authority, Municipal Corporation of Delhi and Delhi police. What is the progress?
I don’t think we would get the DDA. As for the MCD, they had given us some powers but a piecemeal solution would not do as then we would only draw flak. So I have written to the Centre that we do not want a limited control over the MCD. Law and order is a definite issue and we would like the Delhi police to be divided into security, law and order, and traffic divisions for better and more specialised working. But we do not want the police to be under us.
Are you satisfied with the management of law and order?
That was a major area of concern. But the Delhi police have introduced more motorcycle borne personnel; the number of police stations has been increased from around 106 to 159; and most of the new police stations are in the outer areas so that they can control movement of inter-State criminals.