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Reality check: AAP's free water to cost Delhi Rs 340 crore a year

Does AAP have its head in the clouds? That is the question that is being asked in political and economic circles, as the fledgling party sits firmly in the spotlight of Delhi's governance woes.

The party most recently made headlines when it submitted a 18 point questionnaire to the Congress and BJP, asking it to commit to several issues including possible cases of corruption against their leaders.

The other items on the questionnaire related to many of AAP's election promises. An audit into high electricity prices, 700 litres of free water for every family and regularising slum colonies.

Predictably both the Congress and BJP slammed the 'high handed' and 'arrogant' questionnaire. Balbir Punj probably summed up the feelings of the two major parties when he said, "What is this height of arrogance? Instead of thinking of how to form the government, the leaders from the party (AAP) are busy making baseless allegations against other parties. They only have 28 seats and they are questioning the Congress and BJP. If they have the mandate, let them form the government. If not, then sit in the opposition"

 Reality check: AAPs free water to cost Delhi Rs 340 crore a year

Reuters

This was reiterated by senior leader Arun Jaitley who said, "Its (AAP) celebratory mood has converted itself into one of arrogance. Maintaining dignity, grace and humility after victory is essential. Arrogance can be the first sign of downfall. What goes up in politics also comes down. It is this feeling amongst others which must inculcate humility in politics. The AAP party must learn from this"

But arrogance may be the least of the concerns with the Aam Aadmi Party. Because arrogance in a sense, can only hurt the party itself, by putting off voters.

A more real concern, according to this report in the Economic Times, is what is outlined in the questionnaire itself. The report speaks to various experts and asks them to critically analyse AAP's promises, and the broad consensus is that they are just not practical.

The two biggest issues according to the report, are AAP's promises of free water and cheap electricity. On water, it quotes economist Ajay Shah as saying, "Delhi has 11 million (1.10 crore) persons. Assuming 4 persons per family and Rs 5 to produce a kilolitre of water; we would require Rs 94.5 lakh per day or Rs 340 crore for a year. This is the production cost, you cannot wish away. For this to be free, funds will have to be found. Even if corruption is removed, costs will be high. Further, this is not sustainable -- if AAP is successful, corruption will come down and more people will flock to Delhi.

Firstpost editor R Jagannathan also raised this point when AAP's manifesto was first released.

"Free water in an era of impending water shortages will ensure waste and corruption. A better idea is to price water, with maybe a price that moves up with higher usage. Delhi’s poor already pay a lot for tanker water, so paying for water is not likely to be resisted", he said.

And its not just water that has the potential to bankrupt the civic administration if AAP has its way. Its promise to reduce electricity costs by half are also deeply problematic.

The ET report says, "First of all, they will have to prove that the power suppliers are making 100 to 200 percent profit. But even if they prove corruption in this sector, it's difficult to imagine how they can bring down the tariff by half."

Firstpost editor Dhiraj Nayyar also raised this point earlier when he said,

How has it (AAP) come to the conclusion that 50 percent if the right figure? Governments are usually bad at figuring out the right prices. Competitive markets do a better job. Veiled threats to private discoms --- special audits, potential cancellation of their licences – may scare away the private sector and take Delhi back to the bad old days of the state-owned DESU (Delhi Electricity Supply Undertaking), when tariffs may have been lower but there was no power for several hours in a day.

In another article, Firstpost's R Jagannathan warned that well intentioned 'dole' politics would only see AAP fall into the same trap as Congress, and would only serve to breed more corruption - the plank on which Kejriwal swept so many votes.

If Kejriwal comes up with his cheap power and free water scheme, he can be sure that every crook will be salivating at the prospect. Kejriwal will be watering the soil of corruption further. A water mafia will develop, and power theft will become endemic.

It could well be that AAP realises that many of its promises are impractical and unimplementable, which may explain why it is so reluctant to govern without an absolute mandate. There is no way that AAP can go back on its election promises, given that it is running on a plank of an 'honest' political alternative to the Congress and BJP. Which is why given the situation in Delhi, where it will need the support of either the Congress or BJP to form a minority government, it feels it is so important to get both parties to agree to its demands.

Given that it is a near certainty that both parties will refuse, AAP can now throw its hands in the air and tell the people of Delhi that its plans to make life easier for them were thwarted by the joint efforts of the 'corrupt' BJP and Congress who were up to its dirty tricks again.

And best of all, it will not have to answer the uncomfortable questions about how it plans to find the money to fund its promises.

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Updated Date: Dec 16, 2013 10:37:51 IST