New Delhi: Just how difficult is it to govern Delhi? Very. That’s the simple answer. As the Aam Aadmi Party nears the completion of its first year in office, serious doubts have been raised over its capacity to manage the city-state. It has been busy with high-decibel controversies from the beginning, devoting little attention to governance, critics will point out. The fact is, Delhi is difficult to govern smoothly even for the most well-intentioned governments.
Perhaps AAP is learning this the hard way.
The National Capital Region of Delhi is defined as a Union Territory having legislative powers and is virtually a department of the Central government. The government of Delhi has little authority to decide or deliver in most matters. There is a multiplicity of agencies involved in running the city. And the problem of jurisdiction surfaces with respect to every major sector.
Take a look at the roads sector: There are National Highways, state Public Works Department (PWD) roads and flyovers, MCD roads and those maintained by the New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) and the Cantonment Board. No one really knows which portion falls under which agency and if there are potholes and obstacles, the PWD and the civic bodies keep arguing over jurisdiction starting with culverts and drains, forget about roads. Some areas even turn out to be no man’s land.
Another major issue relates to hospitals. In Delhi, there is a wide range of hospitals starting with Aiims, Safdarjung and RML hospitals under the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. Some 40 hospitals are run by the Delhi government and at least 10 major ones come under the municipal corporations of the city. In addition, the Delhi government and the civic bodies run hundreds of dispensaries, polyclinics and maternity centres. In case of shortage of beds, blood, special testing facilities or something as critical as getting rabies injection, patients are simply asked to go here and there. They have no way of knowing which hospital actually belongs to which authority.
“There is no networking to ensure that a bed will positively be made available or a facility provided even if a referral to a particular hospital has been made. This becomes critical in case a patient is referred for special cardiac intervention, paediatric treatment or a neurological condition. Facilities for this are not available in all hospitals but patients do not know it and have to face a lot of inconvenience unless they have the money to go to private hospitals,” former Chief Secretary of Delhi Shailaja Chandra, who was also health secretary of the city, told Firstpost.
When it comes to a critical area like public health, take just one example – malaria. The entire business of vector (mosquito) control such as fumigation and spraying of insecticides to prevent it is squarely the municipal corporations’ responsibility but nevertheless, the Director of Health Services and the Health Secretary of the Delhi government perforce have to coordinate things. That is because the civic bodies will not be able to get the Railways, defence establishments and other central government agencies and departments to either undertake public health programmes or facilitate entry into their buildings.
Why is this? “That is because each organisation reports to its own hierarchy and there is no single fount of authority when epidemics and outbreaks have to be tackled. Although the Delhi government tries to coordinate, but sometimes things have to go to the Health Ministry because of a variety of operational issues. It could be related to the supply of insecticides or it could be the fact that stagnant water and water hyacinth are allowed to accumulate in areas which fall under the jurisdiction of a particular authority. Either because of apathy or because their priorities lie elsewhere, all authorities do not give the same attention to the matter. They are accustomed only to reporting to their own hierarchies and do not like the idea of being told what to do,” she said.
Each organisation, she explained, is a giant. For example, there is the NDMC, which is a non-elected independent body that looks after prestigious and sensitive locations like the President’s Estate, the Prime Minister’s House, the Supreme Court and the residences of ministers, MPs and senior bureaucrats. Then there are three corporations (North, South and East MCDs) and the Delhi Cantonment Board. The municipal corporations are elected bodies and have autonomy but this does not extend to land and buildings controlled by the central or the city government.
The Delhi Development Authority (DDA) is under the Union Ministry of Urban Development but it owns large pockets of urban properties, including shopping complexes, neighbourhood markets, sports centres, extensive parks and housing colonies.
“With so many agencies, it is difficult to talk of problems of Delhi unless one knows which part of the city one is referring to- not only in geographical terms but also in terms of organisational jurisdiction,” said Chandra, who has over 45 years experience of public administration.
When it comes to unauthorised regularised and unauthorised non-regularised colonies, there is yet another kind of jurisdictional problem. In unrecognised unauthorised colonies, there are hardly any services like piped water supply, sewerage, public health and medical coverage being extended. Reason: they are not regularised. Even when that happens, what is actually given is the bare minimum.
But when some tragedy takes place - like a building collapses or sewage getting mixed up with drinking water - the blame game starts. “This was your problem because it was your drain, it was your pipe, it was your lack of monitoring; it happened because you were not doing pre-emptive work”. To counter that, another organisation would say “no, it started from your jurisdiction as the water was contaminated at source”. In this way, the jurisdiction issue becomes larger than the actual problem itself and attention to the problem howsoever acute, gets delayed. This does not happen in other cities where there is a single line of authority.
“You asked me whether administering such as city state can become problematic. Frankly, I do not think a single authority can administer so many institutions which have their own mandate, rules and regulations and operate as a part of the central government, the Delhi government, elected to local bodies etcetera. Coordination is the name of the game and if there is a clear understanding between the central government and the Delhi government and local bodies, and there are no politics being played and people at the helm of affairs make it clear that things have to be done in public interest, difficulties get overcome,” she said.
When this is made explicit, things in fact work fairly well once the officials lower in the hierarchy understand that passing the buck will not get them anywhere. It is because there was no politicking during those years, Sheila Dikshit could remain Chief Minister for three consecutive terms. She had no problems with officers because they understood that they had been posted to the Delhi government by the Central government but now they were at her disposal and their job was to see that whatever was in public interest must be got done. There was no mistrust and harassment of officers. Officers knew their role and found solutions most of the time.
“When I was the chief secretary, I will not say it was a child’s play because we also had to confront and deliver on many fronts. Converting all public transport to CNG was possible because there was no interference from the Central government or for that matter anyone else. Once it was clear that the chief minister was trying to do a good piece of work, the understanding within both ministers and officers of the central government was that she must be supported. And that is how the unbundling of the electricity set up, the progressive law which brought the unit area method of property tax, the Cooperative Societies Act could all be seen through.
“Metro was another shining example of cooperation and coordination. I have attended meetings chaired by the Home Minister and later Deputy Prime Minister where the union Railway Minister and the Chief Minister of Delhi- were all from different political parties. But they used to meet to discuss issues like future investment and financial allocations. The issues would get sorted out in the span of a half-hour meeting,” Chandra added.
Similarly, there were so many requirements which had to be met like the construction of a dedicated canal (the Munak Canal) for bringing water from Haryana to Delhi. “We used to chase it at an official level but often found that things were getting delayed as officials and engineers were from two different governments. The construction agency was under the central government. But whenever we found that things were getting stuck, we would report to the chief minister and she would speak to the water resources minister or the chief minister of Haryana or even go and meet whoever was in a position to take a decision. The officers performed well at that time because they knew that higher level intervention would always be forthcoming if it were needed. That gave the impetus to look for out-of-the-box solutions but also to use political clout where the bureaucracy found the doors closed,” she said.
This, according to her, was the style of administration even during the tenures of chief ministers Madan Lal Khurana and Sahib Singh Verma. “Although the working styles of the three CMs were as different as chalk from cheese, one thing was clear – if you needed intervention at a political level they provided it. Also by and large they gave complete freedom to the officers to work and find solutions,” she said.
Administering Delhi is no child’s play as there is no single line of authority. In fact, there are scores of power centres which only means you have to be “extra assertive”.
“You have to think of very innovative ways of getting work done. You have to make phone calls, write letters and go and meet people and explain the outcome of the laying on neglecting things. Sometimes one finds that even one’s peers and counterparts are in a position to help do not listen. It is then that it becomes necessary to raise the level so that there is political intervention. This does not happen in state governments because there is a single line of authority and one order from the chief minister is a fiat. You do not have to look right and left and forward and backward as in Delhi. In the states, if you have the overall trust of the chief minister, you will find that colleagues are generally supportive and helpful and things get done. But in Delhi which all said and done is a Union Territory under the Constitution, it is a rare kind of challenge,” Chandra said.