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Metro in the cross-hairs

The Delhi government and the Union government are playing a blame game over Metro expansion. To stop the daily bickering, Kejriwal demands full statehood for Delhi, not for the first Time

This is a new chapter of an old story. If something bad happens in Delhi, the multiplicity of agencies that run the Capital — Ministry of Urban Development (MoUD), LG, Delhi government, three municipalities, DDA, Delhi Police — toss the buck at each other. However, when there’s something good, each one of them want to usurp the credit.

Like when Delhi BJP chief Manoj Tiwari created a ruckus with his supporters by gate-crashing the inauguration of Signature Bridge by Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. Tiwari was not invited to the event, and ended up jostling with AAP supporters, claiming credit for re-initiating the work of the bridge.

Delhi Metro is another institution where the MoUD and the Delhi government led by Kejriwal are at loggerheads.  The Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) is a joint venture between the Central and the Delhi governments, both of them own 50% of the equity. But the Union government has an upper hand when it comes to fixing of fares or other commercial decisions.

The most recent episode of tussle was when after two years of waiting, two months ago, the Delhi government finally cleared six corridors as part of the phase IV extension of the Delhi Metro. Kejriwal government even committed Rs 9,707 crore over five years for the project on the condition that the operational losses will be equally shared by the Centre and the Delhi government. Also, the former will not bear liability for an external loan, if the DMRC fails to pay back.

The Union cabinet, a week back, approved only three of the six corridors approved by the Delhi government — Aerocity to Tughlakabad (20.2 km, via Vasant Kunj, Masoodpur, Kishangarh, Mehrauli, Lado Sarai, Saket, Saket G Block, Ambedkar Nagar, Khanpur and Tigri), RK Ashram to Janakpuri West (28.9 km) and Maujpur to Mukundpur (12.5 km) — which were designated as “priority” by the DMRC. The work for Phase-IV is yet to start, but before that a fresh tussle has started between the Centre and the state governments. Kejriwal called the move to selectively approve the project “disappointing” and “against the people of Delhi,” while the Minister of State for MoUD, Hardeep Singh Puri, accused the AAP of “delaying” the project by raising “non-issues” in the form of conditionalities.

Puri minced no words when he said, “Chief Minister (Kejriwal) suffers from a phobia of taking decisions.” Opposing the conditions the CM has imposed, he adds, “I completely fail to understand why the new lines are expected to make operational losses when these will each get around six lakh riders.” The Centre went ahead and approved the three corridors ignoring the conditionalities imposed by the Delhi government.

BJP’s MP from North West Delhi, Udit Raj, came out in support of Puri and said that the conditions imposed by the Delhi government are “cheap publicity” meant for taking the credit for approving the project, and pass the buck on the Central government in case there’s a delay in the project.

BJP and Congress, two national parties decimated by AAP in the 2015 Assembly elections, attack Kejriwal for deliberately causing complications that will eventually lead to avoidable delays. However, Delhi transport minister Kailash Gahlot has a very different interpretation of the situation. He smells a “conspiracy” by the Centre to stop work on phase-IV and the Delhi government will then have to foot the bill of the “entire operating loss.”

With the general elections around the corner, the BJP and the AAP are accusing each other of stalling all development projects in the city. Tiwari went on to say that this is Kejriwal’s revenge on the people of Delhi “for his defeat in the municipal elections.”

In a flurry of activities, the Centre has approved dozens of projects before the dates of the general elections are announced. Apart from phase IV of Metro extension, the union cabinet also approved the ambitious first phase of the India’s first Regional Rapid Rail Transit (RRTS), an 82 km-stretch between Delhi-Ghaziabad-Meerut at the cost of Rs 30,274 crore. A few days after the cabinet’s nod to the RRTS project, the Prime Minister laid the foundation stone f the project at Sikandarpur in Ghaziabad, in the presence of Yogi Adityanath and VK Singh, who’s the local MP and minister of state in Modi’s government.

Needless to add, Kejriwal was not invited and predictably this project also led to a quarrel between the state and the centre. The apex court had to intervene, asked the Delhi government to pay Rs 265 crore from the Environment Compensation Charge (ECC) for the construction of RRTS. The Delhi government wanted to use this fund for purchasing 1,000 electric buses and 900 feeder buses.

In December 2017, the Magenta line that connects Noida’s Botanical Garden to Janakpuri West, with plans of extension to Haryana, was inaugurated by PM Narendra Modi, in the presence of the  Chief Ministers of UP and Haryana, Yogi Adityanath and Manohar Lal Khattar, respectively.  Arvind Kejriwal was conspicuous by his absence and wasn’t even extended an invitation. It turned out to be a BJP event.

This was believed to be a reaction to the ongoing tussle between the Delhi government and MoUD over the Metro fare hike, and is indicative of the control MoUD exercises on DMRC. For the record, when Delhi Metro was first extended to UP 10 years ago, both Sheila Dikshit and Mayawati, the then Chief Ministers of Delhi and UP, were present at the inauguration.

Delhi government seeks full statehood, and complete control over DDA, Delhi Police and even DMRC. The Deputy Chief Minister of Delhi, Manish Sisodia, promised on the floor of Delhi assembly that AAP government will slash Metro fares by 25-30%, if DMRC is placed under the Delhi government.

His boss, Kejriwal, condemning the step-motherly treatment to Delhi despite its humongous contribution of Rs 1.5 lakh crore as taxes per year to the exchequer, has launched a campaign for the full statehood for Delhi.

He reminded the Modi of BJP’s 2014 promise of full statehood to Delhi. If that happens, this daily bickering may stop.