After failing miserably in the recently held Lok Sabha polls, Delhi chief minister and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) national convener Arvind Kejriwal’ has proposed free rides to women in public transport buses and Delhi Metro.
The big race for capturing the seat of power in Delhi, the heart of the nation, has begun. After failing miserably in the recently held Lok Sabha polls, Delhi chief minister and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) national convener Arvind Kejriwal’s proposal of offering free rides to women in public transport buses and Delhi Metro is a radical, out-of-box proposal aimed to killing many political birds with one stone.
In one stroke, Kejriwal has not only ignited hope of freebies in the minds of 64.42 lakh women – who constitute about half of the 1.36 crore voters in the city. He also added the twist of women safety to the proposal saying that poor women who are forced to walk long distances to save every penny will get a big relief by getting a free opportunity to travel in safe public transport.
Desperate to reverse the political setback in Lok Sabha polls, Kejriwal realises the need to maintain his connect with poor residents of the city, especially those in slums and unauthorised colonies. He realises that freebies for women commuters are sure to offer something to every low income family in the city. It, of course, will depend on the individual woman whether she wants to avail the scheme by registering for the scheme and give biometric details to the Delhi Metro which is planning to install special biometric driven entry and exit gates at its stations for allowing women availing the free travel scheme.
The government is working on a voluntary model for the scheme, where travellers can opt out of the subsidy.
Source said as part of generating optimal goodwill for the Kerjriwal government over the free ride offers, MLAs of the AAP may also be roped in to hold special registration camps for women who want to avail the free travel. Those who turn up at these camps, in all probability, end up voting for the Kejriwal-led outfit.
The AAP, which has 63 MLAs in the 70-member Delhi Assembly, has asked all its legislators to popularise the proposal on free rides and get feedback from voters in their respective constituencies. Already, 200 meetings of AAP workers and residents have been launched to seek public views on the populist proposal.
According to Kejriwal’s proposal, the Delhi government is expected to pay of Rs 700-800 crore to cover the losses that the free ride scheme is going to inflict on the public transporters during the remaining months of the financial year before the Assembly election in January 2020.
BJP and the Congress have criticised the AAP boss, Kejriwal, for making the announcement hastily allegedly without consulting the Central government that, along with the city government, has an equal stake in Delhi Metro. Union Urban Development Minister Hardeep Singh Puri has also said that the Central government has not received any proposal on free rides yet.
Political analyst say Kejriwal has sensed the overwhelming public support for the free ride offer and wants to enjoy the attention that the proposal is getting him. “The Chief Minister does not want the BJP-led Central government to take any credit for the women-friendly decision. This is the reason, he went ahead and announced the scheme without informing people about the stand of the Centre and Delhi Metro on the issue,” said a professor from Delhi University.
While there are sceptics who question the gains from Kejriwal’s announcements, environmentalists say the radical experiment is worth a trial if even a small section of women car or scooty drivers are lured to the public transport with Chief Minister’s freebee. “This will also help reduce vehicular pollution,” said a road safety activist.
The Kejriwal government aims to launch the free ride scheme in the next two or three months and has invited suggestions from the public about its implementation.
“Public transport is said to be the safest for women. They are not able to use these services because of the increase in Metro fares," Kejriwal said at a press conference. The Delhi government’s estimates that around 33 percent of the people who travel by buses and metros in Delhi are women but there don’t seem to be enough studies to back this calculation.
Fears of overcrowding at Metro stations due to the free ride offers have also been raised by Kejriwal’s opponents who cite case studies from Chennai where a fare hike by the Metro dropped foot fall by 50 percent. Thus, establishing a direct link between low fares and high footfall.
Sceptics said providing free rides to women will lead to a sudden surge in traffic and congestion in Metro if infrastructure and logistics, are not upgraded. The public transport buses may also be impacted as the utility struggles with a depleted fleet.
The BJP has questioned the drastic scheme proposed by Kejriwal and called it a poll gimmick.
Delhi BJP chief Manoj Tiwari demanded a white paper on the transport problems of the city. He also alleged that the public transport buses had failed miserably.
He alleged that working women do not want freebies but want safer and reliable transport.
BJP leaders also point to the financial burden that the free ride scheme may impose on the city. The annual expenditure of Rs 1,400 crore on free ride will add up to about 24 per cent of Delhi's budget surplus estimate of Rs 5,902 crore for 2019-2020.
Besides the announcement of the populist free ride for women in Delhi Metro and state-owned buses, the ruling AAP has starting for the upcoming Assembly polls in January. It has also announced a plan to conduct two internal surveys before deciding which MLA to re-nominate in the elections.
The decision to take a tough stand against poor performing party legislators by the AAP was taken following a dismal performance by the party candidates in the LS polls. In 48 out of 70 Assembly constituencies, the AAP stood third in the LS polls. Each Lok Sabha seat in Delhi has about 10 Assembly constituencies.
Kejriwal has also indicated that the first survey of MLAs would be held a few months before elections and the second one will he conducted one month after the first survey. Those MLAs who get negative public views in the first survey will be given a month to improve their perception but if the second survey also reflects a poor image of the legislator then he or she will not be granted an AAP ticket.
Amid Kejriwal’s hectic preparation for the Assembly polls in January, there is talk of the Chief Minister’s ability to prove all his detractors wrong when it comes to implementing populist schemes. He has already done this once by successfully introducing the 20 kilo litre free water a month scheme for small consumers. The scheme has evoked interest from many other states which sent officials to study it.
It will be interesting if the AAP government succeeds yet again in executing the populist free ride proposal, a move that also holds promise on security of women and anti-pollution fight as the scheme aims to cut use of private vehicles.
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