AAP, BJP joining hands for Okhla plant a welcome step, but political enmity may continue to hamper policy work in Delhi

21 May, 2015, is a critical date in the history of the national capital. A gazette notification passed on that day revoked a 17-year-old constitutional provision that made it mandatory for the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi to consult the chief minister regarding reserved subjects of police, public order, land as well as services, which is the bureaucracy and those who run the state machinery.

 AAP, BJP joining hands for Okhla plant a welcome step, but political enmity may continue to hamper policy work in Delhi

File image of Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal and Union Jal Shakti Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat. ANI

Article 239AA was inserted through the 69th Amendment Act, 1991, to create Delhi’s framework for governance, according to which, the Chief Minister of Delhi didn't have executive power over the three reserved subjects. In July 2018, the matter reached the Supreme Court where a five-judge Constitution Bench, headed by then Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, ruled that the Delhi government has power in all areas except land, police and public order and the L-G is bound by the aid and advice of the government in areas other than those exempted.

The tussle between the central government and the state government over the control of the agencies in Delhi is political in nature and its ramifications ran unencumbered in the 2019 Lok Sabha election campaigns in Delhi when the Aam Aadmi Party-led Delhi government centered its poll campaign on the demand for full statehood.

Given the tensions, any event that brings AAP and BJP, the ruling party at the Centre, on the same page brings with it a sense of relief. On 8 July, Union Jal Shakti Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal laid the foundation stone of a sewage treatment plant in Okhla. The plant in Okhla will treat 56.4 crore litres of wastewater per day. At the event, the Delhi chief minister thanked the central government for its support and said that Delhi's problem of multiplicity of agencies can be overcome when all work together for its benefit.

Commenting on the groundwater depletion in the country, Kejriwal said, "There are only two solutions before us at this juncture: water recycling and recharge. Delhi's population is growing rapidly and we do not have our own source of water. Together with the centre, we are working on a massive groundwater recharge programme on the floodplains of the Yamuna."

To this, Shekhawat responded by saying that Kejriwal's proposal is very good and that he will consider it seriously. "The 500 MLD water that this plant will generate is a huge resource and we need to ensure it is used productively and not wasted," he added.

The plant is being constructed under Yamuna Action Plan–III for which 85 percent funds are being provided by the central government from loan received from Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and remaining 15 percent by the Delhi government.

The coming together of the central and state government isn't a one off. In December 2018, while laying another foundation stone for a project to cleaning the Yamuna water, Kejriwal was all praise for Union Minister Nitin Gadkari.

“He has never made us feel that he belongs to a rival party. I don’t know about others, but the way he has showered love on us, I don’t think the BJP people have got that much love," Kejriwal had said.

Soon after that Kejriwal ran a bitter campaign against the BJP and projected statehood as the solution to Delhi’s problems, citing again and again the problems that arise from the Centre’s end and the way both him and his party are attacked.

To make matters worse, BJP’s campaign in the state, under Lok Sabha MP Manoj Tiwari, is mostly directed at Kejriwal’s personal brand of politics and is focussed at ridiculing Delhi government's schemes even on health and education. AAP retaliates with this us-versus-them echo chamber.

When the water crisis is being debated in both houses of the Parliament, the models of water governance are also under the scanner. In Delhi, over the years, the increase in sewage treatment capacity was not in proportion to the increase in water production and supply, and unless there is cooperation between agencies, sewage water treatment plants cannot fulfil their function.

For instance, a piping connection and other infrastructure created by the Centre-controlled DDA to reuse treated sewage water from the Keshopur STP complex were reportedly lying unutilised. The creation and the management of the STPs come under the purview of the state government-controlled Delhi Jal Board. In a city like Delhi, storm water drains that are approximately 201 in number are spread across in a haphazard manner and combine into 22 outfalls to the river. The slightest of rains lead to urban flooding.

The foundation stone laid on Monday was for the 500 MLD out of the 2,000 MLD capacity of water treatment plants that the Centre and Delhi are working on together.

Without support from the Centre, water governance is impossible. Civic bodies that fall under the Centre and the state — the municipal corporations, the Irrigation and Flood Control Department, the Delhi Jal Board, the Public Works Department, the Delhi State Industries and Infrastructure Development Corporation (DSIIDS) — should take necessary action to prevent dumping of solid waste and sewage into the drains. There are over a dozen civic bodies administering the bank of the Yamuna, which fulfils 70 percent of the city’s water needs. The Delhi government has been trying to implement the high court order to ensure that Delhi gets extra raw water from Haryana in the Munak canal, but the BJP government in Haryana and the Centre had been dithering on the issue.

However, Water isn’t the only area where the inter-governmental clash has reared its ugly head. According to a report card on 'delays by L-G Anil Baijal', released by Delhi deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia, the highest delay in approval by Baijal was for ‘Higher Education Loan Guarantee Scheme for Students’ which is 402 days, while the lowest delay was for the ‘Doorstep Delivery of Services’, which was 21 days.

The implementation of a midday meal programme for children by the Akshaya Patra Foundation, a non-profit wing of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), in 292 government schools in the state has also been delayed. The state government allotted a piece of land to the foundation on a licence-to-use basis to set up a centralised kitchen. AAP has repeatedly questioned why the exact same model wasn’t approved by the L-G. Based on data from the first 101 Mohalla clinics and 24 polyclinics, the Delhi government envisioned providing free testing services to Delhiites via outsourcing. This was also delayed by the LG, but passed without an single edit after public pressure.

Ever since the L-G versus AAP tussle reached the Supreme Court and AAP’s call for statehood hit the billboards, Delhi’s unhealthy federalism has been cemented in the voters' memory. At the launch of the sewage treatment plant, Union Minister Shekhawat stated that water conservation needs to become a public movement for every citizen of Delhi and India and that those in power will have to rise above their political and personal beliefs and unite to conserve water.

Given that the Delhi Vidhan Sabha elections are less than a year away and the BJP will exert all its force to return to power in the capital after a spell of over two decades, the chances that such acts of Centre-state harmony taking place more often seem unlikely at this point.

Caught in a political tug of war, the capital is stretched to the limit.

Updated Date: Jul 10, 2019 22:52:15 IST