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Governance has to be put before vote banks: Shailaja Chandra

Shailaja Chandra has had a long career in public service. She has been a Union secretary in the health ministry as well as the Delhi chief secretary, among others. In an interview with Kavita Chowdhury, she talks about the importance of computerised systems in all organisations to bring about good governance. Edited excerpts:

As someone who has 45 years of administrative experience, including some years as the chief secretary of Delhi, what in your view are the challenges that the new Delhi government will face?

Service delivery would be the most important challenge. The connectivity with the individual citizen is essential for accountability.. There are a large numbers of schemes that individual citizens don’t even know about. There is no policy of first in and first out in departments that directly affect citizens. For example, in registering societies, getting certificates needed for school admissions for the economically weaker sections, cash transfers for liquefied petroleum gas, it has to be seen whether the entitled citizens are getting an improved way of living. If out-of-turn approvals and allotments are being made,or if there is a pick-and-choose approach in deciding applications, and there is no idea of the time lag between an application coming in and its disposal. The citizen feels frustrated.

In the public distribution system area, out patient departments of public hospitals, there are long queues. People jump these queues using their influence, ‘speed money’ or by the bravado of their presence and VIP status. But if there is a computerised system in every office and you are able to build a trust in every citizen that the system works, it could check corruption. For that you need to have an independent one per cent check in every department, which will immediately detect what is going wrong and where.

But considering the fact that Delhi has had no elected government for close to a year…

Officers might face a big challenge. In the past nine months, bureaucrats have been working without any political intercession on behalf of the public, which makes for quick decision-making but it may not be good for democracy. A new government and new ministers with the fire and fury of having successfully won an election would like to be seen quickly implementing the promises they made, but the officers will have to keep a check on the developments. For instance, an MLA would want something to be delivered by evening. But officers have to apply certain rules and check entitlement eligibility – that is a huge challenge.

While most political parties have preferred to sidestep the prickly subject of statehood for Delhi, you have been quite vocal about it.

I have been arguing that full statehood does not mean that the Union government has no say; it is only for day-to-day functioning. For instance, if the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) was placed under the chief minister, it would make for better planning, with inputs of what the citizens also want, rather than a body that is planning externally. The Constitution precludes land, public order and police as subjects not under the jurisdiction of the Delhi government. But apart from that, constitutionally, all other subjects, after the Government of the National Capital Territory of Delhi (NCT) Act was passed should be with the state government which includes smart city plans, housing, construction of roads and setting up markets – all these are of concern to the common man. But the Delhi Municipal Corporation Act, the DDA acts, have not changed the term Lt Governor to chief minister, even though the Constitution was amended to do so.

For 24 years, the constitutional provisions have been violated. There are 57 areas under the DDA and about 60 items under the MCD where the Delhi government cannot do anything at all without the Union government’s assent. Even for a simple thing like increasing the fine for littering on the street, the MCD cannot change it and only the Central government can do so.

What have been the roadblocks to this transition?

Nobody wants to give up their authority. Officers within government have not convinced politicians that this is a constitutional violation. I tried during my time as Chief Secretary (between 2002-2004) I tried pursuing it, sent a paper to the Union government despite the then Lt Governor not liking it. But nothing came of it. There is just one Joint Secretary at the Centre looking at Delhi, he doesn’t have the time to look into the delegation of powers. This situation is absurd. And the more it remains this way, there will be less governance, chaos and confusion on municipal matters.

Women security in the capital has been much talked about in these elections. Given the fact that law and order is not under the Delhi government, what can be done to better the situation?

The Chief Minister should attend the monitoring meeting chaired by the Lt Governor and held every fortnight with police commissioners, senior police brass and the Chief Secretary. The CM’s presence and his inputs of, let’s say, increasing crime in a particular area of the city will be pivotal. Such a via media with the presence of a political representative would make for greater accountability.

Delhi is labelled as an unsafe city with the finger pointed at the influx of a large migrant population in the capital.

When the Nirbhaya incident happened, I talked to cops and was told that 60 per cent of rape and molestation cases are done by those in the age group of 14 to 20 years, those who are daily-wage earners, coming from outside the city; therefore, backgrounds of intense poverty. There is also a class divide. So every area would need a different approach – CCTVs, geographic information system mapping, street lighting and so on. The juvenile justice Act needs to be made stringent. To contain crimes against women, police should be the last word as far as safety in the city is concerned. Also, there has to be a semblance of balance between policing in VIP areas and the non-VIP areas. Additionally, there should be that one per cent test check of police stations to see if calls are being answered by women officers, how efficiently they address complaints and so on.

Whether it is the Aam Aadmi Party, the BJP or Congress, all of them have promised poll sops such as lower electricity tariff, free water and so on. How feasible is it to implement all this?

All political parties in all the states make these promises before the elections. But the issue is, how are they going to fund these subsidies, when Delhi gets its resources only from value added tax, excise and entertainment tax. Money is taken out from the back pocket to put into the front pocket – from areas that the public doesn’t see, from school budgets, from maintenance of sewage system and water treatment plants. It is irresponsible to make these promises when sufficient resources are not available. The public will not accept any additional taxation and Delhi can’t go for market-borrowing because it doesn’t have statehood.

The regularisation of unauthorised colonies is a constant as far as Delhi elections go.

Residents in unauthorised colonies comprise 30 per cent of voters – a huge vote bank. They can’t be ignored because they are citizens of the city and need to be provided a modicum of services. But they would need to be charged developmental charges for the services; maybe not all of it but 70 per cent of it. The regularisation of unauthorised colonies should have stopped long ago. Delhi can never become a world-class city as long as there is no right thinking on the part of political parties and vote banks are put before the considerations of governance.

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