AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal has started a ‘non-cooperation movement’ and is seeking the support of Delhi residents to make his latest political endeavour a success. Priyanka reports from the venue of the fast
Aam Aadmi party leader Arvind Kejriwal on Saturday embarked on an indefinite fast to protest against the ‘inflated’ water and electricity bills of Delhi residents. AAP calls this a ‘non-cooperation movement’ and has urged people to join the movement by not paying their water and electricity bills.
Kejriwal has chosen to stay at a house in Sunder Nagri, in north-east Delhi, during the course of the fast. The locality falls under the Nand Nagri police station and Seemapuri constituency.
Police officers on duty say that nearly 70 police personnel have been deployed around the venue.
The lanes here are narrow, and 25 gaj plots (one gaj of land is roughly equal to 9 sq feet) are lined on both sides. A mobile toilet is carelessly parked near the house where Kejriwal is staying.
Most of the houses are three storeyed.
Seema, a resident of the gali, lives in her three-storey house with her husband, a tea seller in the nearby market, three school-going children and mother-in-law. She says that water bills here are calculated according to the number of floors of each house, irrespective of the number of occupants.
Meters to keep a tab on the consumption of water were installed last year in February, but these households are yet to receive bills which show meter readings. The bill amount paid by them is Rs 500 per floor per month.
Nirmal stays next door with her family of six in a single floor, and her water bill is much less.
“We fear a huge water bill, just like so many people here have received, once bills are calculated according to the meters,” says Nirmal.
The house in the gali where Kejriwal is staying belongs to Santosh, a party worker. She has worked closely with the AAP leader since 2002.
Santosh says she was handed a high water bill this season, an amount of Rs 5,200 for a four-month period. Her father works as a tailor in a factor nearby. She stays with her parents and siblings.
“We earn about Rs 4,000 a month. How can we pay this bill,” she asks.
Members of the Aam Aadmi Party rested at the ground floor of the house next door.
Mother-son duo Raja Khanna and his mother Sunita Khanna had joined the party today and were present to support the fast.
“Back in 1996, I sat on an 18-day-long hunger strike because my daughter wouldn’t be admitted in a government school,” Sunita Khanna recounts.
“Arvind Kejriwal is right. The common man is angry but he doesn’t have the time to come on the streets. When the anger grows, they will come out on the streets,” her son Raja says.
Senior member of AAP Gopal Rai rests on a bed at one corner of the adjoining room. He is on a token fast for one day.
“There are many people, across 264 locations, who are observing a fast today,” he informs rediff.com.
Nearly 6,000 volunteers of AAP are spread out across the capital and are talking to people, urging them to defy the government and not pay their water and electricity bills. AAP has also demanded that the government order a financial audit of the companies in charge of the water distribution in the capital.
“Our people are trying to reach to 80 percent of the population living in the jhuggis (slums) in the capital,” he says.
The senior AAP leader argued that people in slums are the worst affected because of inflated water and electricity bills; hence the party had decided to reach out to them first.
By 4.30 pm, AAP volunteers had convinced 78 people in R K Puram to sign a petition, saying they will not pay their bills.
“By the end of the third day, we hope to have one lakh people who have agreed not to pay inflated water and electricity bills,” Rai says.
Rai argues that this particular fast is very different to the fasts undertaken by team members previously -- notably the ones by activist Anna Hazare.
“Earlier, we had demands from the government, and people came out in our support,” Rai explains. “But this time, we want people to stand up for their rights, and we will support them.”
The Bharatiya Janata Party too held demonstrations against electricity bills in the capital recently. The party’s Delhi head Vijay Goel held a protest outside the Delhi Electricity Regulatory Commission in the capital.
Rai says, “It is okay if they (the BJP) too are protesting, but why do they jump on to the issue after we talk about it and declare protests and fasts.”
He asserts that AAP has been single-mindedly focusing on uniting people to fight against inflated bills since September last year.
“The BJP has been the main opposition party for 15 years. Why doesn’t it hold dharnas inside the state assembly,” Rai asks.
Rai is confident that the indefinite fast and non-cooperation movement being led by Kejriwal will unite people in the next few days.
Kejriwal did not speak with the media today. He was slated to speak at the Wharton Business school event at 7 pm.
He will address the media on Sunday morning.
Outside the house, some women approached the help desk set up by the AAP with their water bills of the past one year.
Saun Devi lives with her family of ten members nearby and she has come here today with a water bill of Rs 14,059 for a period of almost 21 months.
She says that her monthly income is Rs 3,500. “How will we pay the bill amount,” she asks.
The residents of the locality say that they had been receiving water bills of Rs 200 for six months till meters were installed a year and half ago.
The water bill of Bittu Devi for the same period is Rs 7,348.
Similarly, the water bill of Shabbuddin is Rs 11,000 for the same period.
The residents further claim that they have been getting stinking gutter water in their homes for the past three months.
“We cannot even open the water taps, otherwise the whole house will stink. We get water from a hand pump,” says Saun Devi.
Image: Women near the help desk set up by the Aam Aadmi Party