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An L-G on the move should ring alarm for city government

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By Sidharth Mishra

The newspapers last fortnight carried headlines of the newly-appointed Lieutenant Governor of Delhi Vinai Kumar Saxena meeting chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, and two agreeing to work together for the benefit of the people. That the occupants of the two offices, mandated to work together, had to declare that they would work together reflects on failed governance in the national Capital in the past nine years.

Bureaucrats holding the office of Lieutenant Governor, staying put in their ivory tower of Raj Niwas, have always found themselves at the receiving end of the competitive politicking. With the new L-G hitting the turf running and giving clear signals that he would not restrict himself to the four-walls of his office, Kejriwal could have quite a challenge at hand.

Beyond the loud proclamation in hoardings and in media, governance in national Capital has declined. The culture to perform and deliver has also been lost. In the times before Kejriwal, the launch of a new Metro line would be followed by Press statements informing what the passenger footfall was and what was the day’s earning.

In Kejriwal era, when electric buses are launched, the government announces three days of free rides. While there has not been any information on passenger footfall, there has been news of these newly-deployed buses breaking down.

The total breakdown of health system during the second wave of Covid in the summer of 2021 showed how moth-eaten and inadequate the set-up in the name of Mohalla clinics was. The most recent example of a maimed Delhi government infrastructure was visible during the fire tragedy in Mundka.

While spokespersons from Kejriwal’s party rushed to blame the BJP-controlled Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD), the fact is that many a lives could have been saved if the Delhi-government administered Delhi Fire Service had risen to the challenge. Delhi Fire Service (DFC) is under the control of the state government.

When a government’s whole focus is to subsidise governance for the sake of votes, emergency services like the DFC turn rickety. There are nearly 800 vacant posts of fire-fighters and fire-officers in the department. These vacant posts are being manned by hiring people on contract. Like military and police, fire safety is also a sovereign function. Like the military posts and police stations cannot be manned by people hired on contractual basis, so should be the case of fire services.

Similarly the much-vowed education system of Delhi is more in the publicity than actuality. This also became visible during the Covid-forced shutdowns. The National Achievement Survey 2021 has found a huge digital divide among children in the national Capital with 43 percent not having access to online education.

Given his successful top corporate honcho profile, especially in turning around the Khadi Board, and close proximity to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the new Lieutenant Governor has come occupy the office with a lot of expectations. Change in the profile of the occupant of Delhi Raj Niwas could have happened only with the approval from the top.

Delhi today is surviving on the legacy infrastructure planned and built during the 2010 Commonwealth Games, be it in the form of roads, metro, buses, and water supply among others. Given Kejriwal government’s priority to subsidise services to buy political goodwill has done much harm to the national Capital.

The challenge before Lieutenant Governor Saxena would be to restore and recreate models of good governance. These initiatives would for sure end up running rough shod over the priorities of the ruling party in Delhi. Here the political attacks would begin. How to counter them Saxena would probably know.

(First published in The Morning Standard) 


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