The outbreak of the deadly triple epidemic in the national capital has exposed the fault-lines of our system and underlined the need of reducing, if not terminating, the multiplicity of authority in order to fix accountability for the lapses of various top functionaries.
As of now more than 30 people have died of various diseases including chikungunya, dengue and malaria and instead of focusing on bringing relief to the citizens, political parties are accusing each other of being both callous and apathetic in their approach. The fact of the matter is that the BJP and the Congress are as much to blame as the present AAP government for gross negligence. The AAP has been in power in the capital for a year and half and since Delhi lacks infrastructure in dealing with a crisis situation like the present one, the two principal parties by no means can absolve themselves. However, this does not imply that at every juncture the AAP should throw up its arms as a show of helplessness. On the contrary, its leaders should pull up their socks, roll up their sleeves and go down to the trenches.
There have only been two occasions in the past three decades where leaders acted strongly while dealing with a similar mess. The first instance was when in July, 1988, the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi took the stern measure of dismissing the Lt Governor, H.K.L. Kapur for the failure of the government to contain the outbreak of cholera and gastroenteritis. Gandhi, who on that particular morning returned from Moscow, visited the three worst affected re-settlement colonies of Nand Nagri, Sunder Nagri and Gokulpuri in the trans-Yamuna area, accompanied by his wife, Sonia, after party strongman H.K.L. Bhagat complained to him about the lax attitude of the authorities. The Prime Minister saw for himself the deplorable hygienic conditions in the three colonies and dismally inadequate preparedness at the GTB hospital. He held a meeting at his residence post the visit and issued the marching orders to the Lt. Governor, H.K.L. Kapur, Chief Secretary K.K. Mathur, Municipal Commissioner P.P. Chauhan and DDA vice chairman Om Kumar. He also ordered the suspension of three chief engineers of the civic bodies.
The unprecedented action by the Prime Minister sent a clear message down the line and the bureaucracy thereafter remained on its toes to ensure that cholera and gastroenteritis never hit the city with as much savagery. The civic bodies learnt a lesson and every year took the requisite preventive steps.
Madan Lal Khurana, considered by many as the finest Chief Minister Delhi had, also led from the front when a plague epidemic hit the capital in August-September 1994. Khurana, who carved the BJP victory in November, 1993, rose to the occasion and personally supervised the cleanliness work. Along with Subhash Sharma, the municipal commissioner, he visited the garbage dumps and ordered officials to sanitise the environment. He also ensured that medicines were freely available in government hospitals and monitored the situation on an hourly basis. Khurana’s committed zeal literally saved the capital.
Sheila Dikshit was clueless about Delhi when she took over as the CM in December, 1998. Although she now boasts of what she did in the 15 years in office, she was fortunate for the first six years to have Vijai Kapoor as the Lt Governor. Kapoor was easily the most accomplished LG the city had, since he was conversant with various drawbacks, having served in various capacities. He had been the municipal commissioner, the head of the Delhi Electric Supply Undertaking (DESU) and the chief secretary and knew Delhi like the back of his hand. He was a man with proven administrative abilities and as a consequence Dikshit’s inexperience never came to fore. Dikshit was also lucky to have her archrival in the party, the late Ram Babu Sharma who controlled the municipal corporation from 2002 to 2007. He was most competent and ensured that the civic body performed all its required duties. He was one of the most powerful politicians of his time, having done his political apprenticeship under H.K.L. Bhagat. One of the contributory factors that led to the trifurcation of the municipal corporation subsequently was that Dikshit never wanted anyone stronger than her on the political stage. She thus subsequently initiated the move to trifurcate the corporation, a reason why the civic authorities have failed during the present crisis. The present BJP leaders have been left groping in the dark and the cash strapped East Delhi Municipal Corporation has been worst hit. That does not denote that the North Delhi and South Delhi Municipal Corporations have been discharging their duties diligently.
The AAP has a lot to answer for this situation. It has not acquitted itself while pointing fingers at others and needs to identify its own weaknesses before looking for solutions. Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal could easily have postponed his throat surgery to be present in the capital. Yes, it is true, that medical services in the city are run by the Centre, Delhi government and the municipal corporation. However, this does not purport that the government should not have acted adequately along with concerned agencies to combat the epidemic. The Lt. Governor, the chief secretary, the health secretary and municipal commissioners are equally responsible for this predicament. Between us.