As politicians spar, Delhi cries for governance
Last Sunday was extraordinary from "news point of view", whatever that may mean. The prologue for the same was written the night before when Delhi's Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia announced sacking Cabinet colleague Kapil Mishra for "having failed to deliver on the water front." Mishra responded by saying that he will hold a "reveal all" press briefing the next day.
Indian politics has come to witness a fair degree of dramatics ever since Anna Hazare launched his anti-corruption movement in 2011. Delhi in the past six years has proven to be the laboratory of dramatised politics. Thus, no wonder that Mishra on Sunday first travelled with "evidence of corruption" to the Lieutenant Governor, then went to Mahatma Gandhi's last resting place and then dropped, what many media headlines called, the "bombshell".
With the script delivered, it was time for media, especially television, to go as cantankerous as possible. The same evening your reporter had to visit Gurgaon for a prescheduled meeting. The meeting was fixed for Sunday as the long distance between the eastern fringe of the NCR and Gurgaon was thought to be covered in short time given the thin traffic on the weekends.
It was not to be as there was a huge jam between Qutub Minar and Sultanpur on Mehrauli-Gurgaon road, the arterial connect between the national Capital and its prosperous suburb. We wondered about the reason for the jam and then saw a large number of people walking down on from the opposite carriageway, the trickle of people slowly converted into a flood of humanity making us realise a major mishap.
The reporter in me pulled down the window to check on what went into making the huge mass of people walk down the road. "The Metro service has broken down and the people are walking as there are no alternate means of transport," said a passerby as he pulled his attaché on its wheels. As we inched towards Sultanpur station, the scene of the milling crowd on the roads in the peak summer heat should ordinarily have put leaders of all political parties to shame.
Queries revealed that Delhi Metro's Yellow Line services — that connects the city to Gurgaon — was hit for over five hours. The anomaly started around 3 pm and the service was restored only around 8 pm.
Media reports next day said that the service came to a grinding halt as an overhead power line between Qutub Minar and Green Park metro stations was ruptured, bringing the train to a halt. How the metro mismanaged the situation was evident from the fact that the commuters were stranded inside trains and stations for over two hours, as the exit limit of their tokens and cards expired, and the mechanical gates were not accordingly calibrated to allow an easy departure.
This led to a queue at the customer service desks, where the tokens had to 'fixed' and then rush to the exit doors to get out of the hell. A better response management could have saved the commuters from spending time on the stations, which in the absence of urinals and water points had turned infernal on Sunday afternoon.
Definitely, commuter safety and comfort has not remained a priority with the current honcho of Delhi Metro, Mangu Singh, as was the case with his predecessor E Sreedharan.
Most hilarious was the press statement issued by the Delhi Metro on the situation, which said, "The overhead equipment team repaired the affected section. In the meantime, normal services were maintained on the whole line by running trains in loops from Huda City Centre to Sultanpur, Sultanpur to Qutab Minar, and Qutab Minar to Badli. As a result, train services were resumed on the line and continuous service on the affected section was restored as soon as OHE repair work was over."
If the Metro was working normally what were a thousand or more people doing on the streets? Why were the young mothers cuddling their infants in the summer heat desperately looking for a lift? Why were people queuing up at the consumer service windows to get their tokens fixed to get out of the station? Metro could give such misleading information as the media remained glued to the "developing political situation" in the city. In case the Metro officials want to issue a counter, before doing so they could refer to the outburst by the commuters on social media.
As a newspaper reported the next day, angry commuters took to social media to vent their frustration while some cautioned others not to take the Yellow Line.
"Train breakdown on Delhi Metro Yellow Line shuts down service from Gurgaon to Delhi. Why would we plan for breakdowns. Never gonna happen (sic)," @abhidabhi tweeted. "Fault in Delhi Metro Yellow line no trains to Gurgaon (sic)," @kanvanand tweeted. "Snag hits Delhi Metro's Yellow Line, thousands of passengers stranded at stations between Jahangirpuri and HUDA City Centre (sic)," @zafarabbaszaidi tweeted.
The building and operation of Delhi Metro have so far been cited as a classic case of cooperation governance between the Centre and the Delhi Govt. The hell which broke loose on Mehrauli-Gurgaon road on Sunday could also be cited as a classic case of mal-governance due to lack of cooperation and coordination between the two entities.
While the Ministers in the Delhi Government should have made the Metro accountable for the breakdown; the Centre could have asked the Delhi Police why the huge jam was left at the mercy of just half-a-dozen cops in the long stretch to be managed. The mishap immediately gave opportunity to the auto rickshaw and taxi drivers to turn into their well-known 'devil avatar' to fleece the distressed commuters.
Delhi has been hit badly by the political brinkmanship between the BJP-ruled Centre and municipal bodies and the AAP-controlled city government. The sooner politicians return to their basic job of governing the city, the earlier the release from civic hell for the denizens of the national Capital.
(Sidharth Mishra is President, Centre for Reforms, Development & Justice and Consulting Editor, Millennium Post. The views expressed are strictly personal.)