The slogan 'bijli half paani maaf' was Aam Aadmi Party's poll promise in 2015 and as the party's report card highlights, it delivered on the promise. At the heart of the success of the Arvind Kejriwal-led government are three key departments: Health, Power and the Public Works. Satyendar Jain, the minister in-charge for Departments of Health, Power, Irrigation and Flood Control along with Urban Development, Home and Industries, was critical to delivering these promises on ground. Jain defeated SC Vats of the Bharatiya Janata Party from the Shakur Basti constituency by a margin of over 7,500 votes. Mostly away from the limelight, the architect-turned-politician has quietly remained committed to his work in the last five years.
The Irrigation and Flood Control Department has been busy addressing the gradual disappearance of water bodies owing to indiscriminate extraction of groundwater and lack of resolve from the previous governments. AAP's solution was re-charging groundwater and reviving and conserving its inland water bodies.
The Irrigation & Flood Control Department has been busy addressing the gradual disappearance of water bodies owing to indiscriminate extraction of groundwater, lack of resolve from the previous governments. AAP's solution was re-charging the groundwater and reviving and conserving its inland water bodies. Of the 1,100 water bodies in Delhi, 600 can be revived. The Department has, at a cost of Rs 222.10 lakhs, successfully revived the water body at Rajokri village. The other big project was adding a new lifeline to the Bawana waterbody, which is less than a mile away, next to the region's garbage dump " the Bawana landfill. Under the project, the waterbody will be filled with treated water from Ghoga drain," explained Ankit Srivastava who served as technical advisor to the Chief Minister of Delhi on Water.
At Ghogha, the BOD levels are in the range of 332 mg/L indicating the presence of industrial waste. This untreated waste would ultimately find its way into the Yamuna. Until a year back, the lake used to be filled with water brought by tankers during Chatth Puja and now with this innovative concept, water available from the drain is used for its revival.
These development works, far off from the Lutyens' zone, are less documented by the press and barely find space in the broader political narratives. The laying down of pipelines and increasing the metered water supply network to check pilferage and leaks, though, has to be credited to the Delhi Jal Board.
While the Department of Power enabled continuous and affordable electricity supply, the PWD department administered the construction of 21,000 classrooms to expand the student intake in government schools. The completion of the Signature Bridge was a major infrastructure project the AAP government completed. Built at a cost of Rs 1,500 crore, it comes with a 15-storey high viewing deck which offers a panoramic view of the city. In 2019, the PWD completed the long-pending Rao Tula Ram flyover at Outer Ring at a cost of Rs 281.61 crore, as well as, another at Mayur Vihar (Phase I) at Rs 45 crore.
Opposition leaders like BJP's Vijendra Gupta, who won from the Rohini Constituency, accused the government of only completing projects initiated by previous regimes but in 2015, the PWD department of the AAP government constructed an elevated corridor or a flyover, stretching from Azadpur to Prembari Pul, at a cost of Rs 136 crore. The following year, two ramps and six more flyovers were built, thus making for an extended elevated corridor linking Vikaspuri to Meera Bagh, Mangolpuri to Madhuban Chowk and Madhuban Chowk to Mukarba Chowk, and further extending to Bhalswa, Burari and Libaspur. The corridor was developed at a cost of Rs 1,164.8 crore.
While the Congress campaign reminded the capital of Sheila Dikshit's contribution to the city's infrastructure, Jain's PWD department built a total of 19 FOBs in the interest of safety and security of pedestrians in a city where there are more vehicles on roads than there are traffic signals.
One of the things Jain realised early in his term is that innovation is key to executing projects in Delhi, which has nearly a dozen road owning agencies, some of them under the control of the Central Government. The Public Works Department has initiated the installation of 2.1 lakh street lights in the city to eliminate dark spots and enhance women's safety. Hence, instead of installing these lights on poles, Jain's PWD and Department of Power worked together to devise a system wherein the street lights are obtaining power from the household connection of the building owners and the amount levied on the units consumed by street lights is being deducted and paid for by the Delhi government. The CCTV scheme was linked to this project and cameras were installed where the lights were. AAP government's flagship scheme to install 1.4 lakh CCTV cameras was announced in June 2019.
Yet another situation that required innovation in governance was the much-talked-about Wi-Fi project, also overseen by Jain. His team identified locations for 11,000 Wi-Fi hotspots using geo-mapping technology. "Initially, the government asked MLAs for locations but then it realised that it needed to cover each stretch and that demanded a more technical and less political form of mapping. The department built technical capacity within the state machinery and reduced outsourcing to private players," said Gopal Mohan, who served as advisor to the Chief Minister of Delhi in AAP's first full term. Private operators put their optical fibres where internet users are higher in number but when the state envisions such a scheme then it can't afford to miss out on weaker areas. This was a multi-stakeholder project that involved the PWD department, the IT department and 11 road-owning agencies.
During the campaigning for the Delhi Assembly election, the BJP repeatedly targeted the AAP-led government for dishing out the so-called 'freebies' such as electricity, however, under Jain, the Department of Power reduced cost and weeded out corruption at every step to be able to supply cheaper and cleaner electricity to the residents of the National Capital Territory.
"Delhi was earlier forced to buy expensive power from high-cost power stations such as Rajghat (Rs 4.9 per unit), Dadri gas (Rs 5.09 per unit), Badarpur (Rs 4.74 per unit), Aravali Power Corporation-Jajjar (Rs 5.9 per unit), Gas Turbine (Rs 5.15 per unit). Out-dated thermal power stations consume high energy, which pushes up the overall cost. These coal-based thermal plants in the capital were shut down," says Roshan Shankar, who has served as an advisor to the Government of NCT of Delhi and worked closely with Jain.
He added that the AAP-led government proposed that 80 percent of the arrears collected by the discoms should be remitted to the Delhi Transco Limited " the State Transmission Utility (STU) of Delhi " rather than the Holding Company. By doing that, the govt ensured that the money would remain with the Government of Delhi and within the power sector.
Arrear transfers to DTL from the discom bolstered investments in transmission infrastructure across the city. The discoms were made accountable to the public through cases in the judiciary, audits by the CAG, public participation by MLAs at DERC, and government submissions. As a result, Delhi became the only Indian city to provide cheap and clean 24x7 electricity with zero tariff hikes in the last five years. A phased shift to renewable energy, in AAP's belief, will take Delhi towards what the party calls 'bijli swaraj'.
At every step, public money was saved and this reflects in the receding electricity bills which are completely fiscally prudent.
The Department of Power also pushed the use of alternate energy but the awareness and infrastructure regarding solar power were abysmal in the National Capital Territory. So, the installation of solar panels was incentivised. One model was RESCO in which no upfront investment is required for the installation of solar plants. In this, the said rooftop system is owned by a third party or a project developer who can sell the solar energy directly to the owner or any other captive consumer or the power distribution company, following a Power Purchase Agreement. Another model is CAPEX wherein the rooftop owner hires a system integrator/EPC company to install the rooftop SPV system by making the necessary investment.
The revolution in the healthcare sector is something that has been noticed nationally and has earned praise from people like former UN secretary-generals Kofi Annan and Ban Ki-Moon. In a joint survey by PWD and district medical officers, 390 sites were found feasible to set up portacabins where the mohalla clinics could be operationalised. However, decentralising healthcare through mohalla clinics wasn't the only feature of the department's work. To cater to a population of almost two crores, it set up a three-tiered 360-degree delivery system in the form of mohalla clinics at the primary level, multi-speciality polyclinics at the secondary level, and super-speciality hospitals at the tertiary level. There are 31 Super Speciality hospitals across the city which went through an overhauling, be it through the installation of MRI machines or an increase in the salary of nursing staff.
One of the other misconceptions about the Department of Health's approach is that it's solely based on free healthcare to the poor. But income barriers were removed from most health schemes and quality public healthcare was prioritised with a total budgetary outlay of Rs 7,485 crore for the health sector for 2019-20.
To cater to all citizens, regardless of income or domicile status, Delhi government hospitals are undergoing extensive expansion projects which will increase their current bed strength of 10,000 to more than 25,000.
To democratise the healthcare experience of the city, the government did away with the concept of private VIP rooms and instead provided state-of-the-art, air-conditioned facilities to every single patient. The Government of NCT of Delhi launched Delhi Arogya Kosh, an inclusive corpus that funds various health schemes for all residents of Delhi irrespective of income status. Under one of its key initiatives, 56 private hospitals and 23 diagnostic centres have been empanelled to conduct 1,155 surgeries and 133 diagnostic tests free of cost, including but not limited to cardiology, oncology, and neonatal procedures.
In 2013, Nobel laureate Abhijit Banerjee had authored a piece on AAP's prospects in Hindustan Times in which he had written: "Cheap electricity and abundant free water are exactly the things that government after government have promised and failed to deliver; why would a party that promises a new style of governance start with those? They may know something that I don't know, but I strongly suspect that they will not find it easy."
Delivering on promises hasn't been easy for the Aam Aadmi Party, given the bureaucratic bungles and the complexity of power structures to operate within. However, chasing governance goals with commitment has worked in favour of the party and its ministers, all of whom won from their respective constituencies.
The author is a Policy Fellow attached to the Department of Home, Government of Delhi