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The Rediff Election Interview/Delhi Chief Minister Shiela Dikshit
November 19, 2003
Against all odds, Shiela Dikshit has ruled Delhi for five years. If the pundits are to be believed, she is all set to retain office.
The chief minister takes credit for implementing the Supreme Court order of converting the entire public transport system to green fuel, making Delhi a city of flyovers, the privatisation of power distribution and introduction of the Bhagidari system urging people's participation in government schemes to improve the ever-increasing city of 15 million people.
The chief minister has been demanding full statehood for Delhi -- currently a National Capital Territory -- and alleges lack of support by the federal government for this initiative.
Dikshit, 65, is a mother of two who takes her seven-year-old granddaughter to public events.
Ehtasham Khan spoke to Dikshit on the sidelines of a press conference at her Mathura Road home to introduce rebel Bharatiya Janata Party leaders joining the Congress party.
People say you are all set to win the assembly election.
Thanks very much, but it is not just me. All the Congress chief ministers are set to win. And we are going to win next year's Lok Sabha election too.
What is the basis for such confidence?
Our work is in front of the people. Everybody is realising the change. Remember what the condition of Delhi was five years back and what it is now. Moreover, the real face of the BJP has been exposed. Their leaders have been caught taking bribes. The whole nation saw it on television. What else do you need?
You started your political career in UP. The BJP called you an outsider during the last election. What is your association with Delhi?
I have always been a Delhi girl. I studied at Convent of Jesus and Mary and then completed my graduation and post
graduation in history from Miranda House. I have seen Delhi evolving as a city. I understand the place and the people of Delhi. When Soniaji (Gandhi) made me the DPCC (Delhi Pradesh Congress Committee) chief, I accepted the
responsibility. I have won elections here. I have contributed in whatever capacities I could have.
Why would anybody vote for the Congress?
Our greatest achievement, I would say, is clean air. Now you are able to breathe easy. The air is clean and there is greenery all around. We converted 65,000 vehicles to CNG (Compressed Natural Gas) mode. Delhi is now home to the maximum number of vehicles running on green fuel in any city in the world. Our effort has been recognised the world over. We got the clean city award in America a few months back. People tried their best to derail our work but we were determined to make a difference.
About 40 flyovers have become operational. This has improved the traffic situation. Flyovers are not just about roads but it also creates job opportunities for the poor.
We privatised the power distribution system and the power situation has improved dramatically. Consumption (demand) is more than supply. Though power theft has been greatly reduced, there is still scope for improvement. We will overcome this soon. There is a three-tier system to deal with power shortages.
Despite lack of cooperation by the Centre, we made the Metro dream a reality.
We introduced the Bhagidari scheme and encouraged people's participation in government projects. This was in the true spirit of the teachings of Gandhiji and Nehruji. We came into direct contact with the people. For example, when we started planting trees along the banks of the Yamuna and started removing garbage from the river, I thought government officials would do their work and leave. But the people living here will live here forever. So if they take care of their
neighbourhood, it would sustain for long. And we got overwhelming response from the people. People voluntarily came forward to work.
I want to make Delhi a truly international city.
But the Yamuna is still a drain despite the millions of rupees spent on it.
The Yamuna Action Plan is under the urban development ministry of the central government. We don't have any say there. The Delhi government has a department cleaning the Yamuna. I started the Shram Daan (voluntary work) to start the removal of garbage from the river.
My greatest regret is I have not been able to do much for the river.
Why were the BJP and Congress fighting over taking credit for the Metro rail?
We worked so hard to make it actually happen. When it was completed, the BJP started taking credit for it. It hurts. When (Madan Lal) Khuranaji was the chief minister, he actually put it on the backburner and instead wanted some other (railway) system, not the Metro. They (the Centre) made him chairman of the Metro flouting all norms. But people know who did what.
The quality of life in Delhi is still unsatisfactory.
I have been saying again and again that the Delhi government has very little power. We are working in a limited capacity. The master plan (for the city) is made by the Centre and we are not even consulted. The other problem is the
non-stop migration of people from other states to Delhi. We cannot stop people from coming here. They live on pavements and in slums. The winter is so horrifying for these people. They don't sleep hungry. They have clothes to wear and food to eat. The only thing they lack is shelter. Delhi provides them as much as possible.
Delhi is called the 'crime capital of India' with women being most vulnerable. We know the police is not under your control, but what have you done as a woman and as a chief minister to improve the situation?
As a woman I feel bad. When the recent rape case of a foreign diplomat happened, I was shocked. I have been asking for complete statehood for Delhi. Give us power and we will show you the change.
There are advertisements in the newspapers issued by some NGOs, saying you denied citizens their basic rights by not providing them adequate water supply.
Everybody knows who is behind these ads. It is the BJP's propaganda. We had made additional arrangements in the summer. The water crisis has been decreasing. The Sonia Vihar water treatment plant will start in February. It will solve much of the problem.
You replaced three ministers midway through your tenure. You have a say in every decision. Senior Delhi Congress leaders like Sajjan Kumar and Chaudhury Prem Singh have been sidelined. Is it because of your proximity to Sonia Gandhi?
It's team work and we are all working together.
You are now wooing BJP leaders and workers to join the Congress.
Every day BJP leaders are joining the Congress because they have been betrayed by their leaders. They have seen how corrupt the BJP leadership is. People are joining the Congress every day in large numbers. Madan Lal Khurana will also come very soon (Laughs).
The BJP has pitted a newcomer against you. Don't you think it is an unequal fight?
It is their (BJP's) decision. I wish her (Kirti Azad's wife Poonam, the BJP candidate) all the best.
Photograph: Sondeep Shankar/Saab Press Image: Uday Kuckian