Development issues to the fore in Malviya Nagar

Smriti Kak Ramachandran

Congress promises beautification drive, BJP counters its claim to progress

NEW DELHI: In what are considered the Capital’s affluent neighbourhoods -- Hauz Khas, Green Park, Safdarjung Enclave and adjoining areas that together constitute the Malviya Nagar segment of the Delhi Assembly -- the fate of the contestants will be determined by how well they promise to tackle the problems of congested roads, parking woes, choked sewers and inadequate community facilities.

The key contest for this seat is between two-time MLA Kiran Walia of the Congress and Ram Bhaj of the Bharatiya Janata Party, both of whom claim “development” as their major poll plank.

Ms. Walia, a Shiela Dikshit loyalist who is also the sitting MLA from Hauz Khas, which post-delimitation has been merged with the Malviya Nagar seat, claims she is keen to ensure “continuity of the development works” that were started by her.

“There are so many things that have been done and so many more that need to be done. The focus is on overall development, from streetlights to pavements, to parks and multi-level parking. During my term I have got two community centres approved, and carried out the beautification of parks,” she says.

Environment, she adds, is one of her top priorities and she hopes to carry out a beautification drive across her constituency. “There are several other issues also. For example, there is a need for an underpass near IIT and a flyover near Adchini where there are frequent traffic jams,” says Ms. Walia.

Wishing for people to “inculcate the habit of walking,” she says: “People tend to drive even for short distances that can be covered on foot. It adds to the congestion, and since this city unlike Chandigarh is not planned, there is a huge problem of parking vehicles.”

The former Delhi University teacher says the Delhi Metro railway is an answer to the problems of parking, traffic congestion and will prove to be an incentive for people to walk.

Ms. Walia’s selection as the party’s candidate from Malviya Nagar in preference to Delhi Health Minister Yoganand Shastri had led to dissension within the party. Mr. Shastri, who won from Malviya Nagar in 2003, was considered a front-runner for the ticket.

As for her opponents outside the Congress, Ms. Walia claims she will triumph over them. “Mr. Ram Bhaj has left his constituency and come here, whereas I have been in constant contact with people here.”

She dismisses any threat from Sri Pal, the candidate of the Bahujan Samaj Party. “The Assembly elections are not the same as municipal corporation polls. Just because they won some corporation seats does not mean that they will pose a threat to the Congress in these elections. Besides, people know better and would not vote for a losing candidate,” she says.

Refuting the “outsider” tag, BJP’s Ram Bhaj, who lost the 2003 elections to Ashok Ahuja of the Congress from Sarojini Nagar, says he is sure people will vote out Ms. Walia for her “non-performance”.

Mr. Ram Bhaj, a former Vice-Chairperson of the New Delhi Municipal Council, asserts: “I have been living in Safdarjung Enclave for the past 35 years. If anyone here is an outsider, it is Ms. Walia who stays in Greater Kailash, which is not a part of the Malviya Nagar constituency. And as a bona fide resident of this area I am not only well versed with the problems that people face here but also committed to bring about positive changes, like I had in Sarojini Nagar.”

Countering Ms. Walia’s claims of “development”, he says: “She says she has got the community centre projects approved. I want to know why have the approvals been sought and granted months before the polls. What was being done all these years? Also, if the approvals have been granted where is the land from the Delhi Development Authority or the Municipal Corporation of Delhi? If they have approved the community centres and the parking bays then land should be allocated for them, but where is that land?”

Alleging that Ms. Walia has been unable to provide “a single community facility, whether it is for the youth, the aged or the women”, Mr. Ram Bhaj says even civic problems like uncovered drains have not been addressed.

“People are angry, there are deep drains that have not been covered, the law and order situation has taken a beating and the roads are in terrible shape. Even the MCD councillors have done better and more work in the recent months than what she has accomplished in the past 10 years,” charges the two-time MLA who won the election from Sarojini Nagar in 1993 and 1998.

Criticising his opponent for just “laying foundation stones”, Mr. Bhaj says he is hopeful that the Congress will face defeat on account of anti-incumbency.

“The Congress has to face a double-edged sword. Their own candidate has a poor track record and the BSP is going to cut into their share. Voters from Haus Rani and the Valmiki Samaj that the Congress used to count on will now opt for the BSP,” he warns.

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