Sheila Dikshit made a lasting contribution to raising the beauty and infrastructure of the national capital New Delhi as one comparable to several other world capitals.
The best tribute to Sheila Dikshit came from her bitter political adversaries: from Narendra Modi and Amit Shah to Arvind Kejriwal. They paid lavish compliments to her outstanding contributions. This is significant in the era of arrogant display of power and pelf by several of her contemporaries like Jayalalithaa, Mamata Banerjee and Mayawati. Dikshit was a personification of civility and decent dialogue.
I have had occasions to listen to her. She was a regular at the CII’s national conferences in the initial years of the new millennium. Articulate and lucid, Dikshit’s was quite forceful and effective in projecting the continuous stream of changes she brought about in the national capital.
In the pre-Dikshit era, New Delhi could not be termed as a ‘developed’ capital comparable to several others despite the brilliant design of Sir Edwin Lutyens’ Delhi which has had its splendid monuments of centuries of Mughal architecture. The metro lacked basic civic amenities. Despite the Centre lavishing the capital, underwriting the hefty losses and inefficiencies of its power utilities, roads and road transport, water utilities and other infrastructure, the services were inadequate and poor.
The Delhi Transport Corporation, with around 10,000 buses fully funded by the Central exchequer, was a disgrace, belching smoke and inviting strictures from the highest judiciary. Transmission and distribution losses at about 56 per cent, plunged the utility to humongous losses. Rangarajan Kumaramangalam as Power Minister in the NDA I ministry used to describe T&D losses as theft and dacoity losses.
A record of three consecutive terms…
What a transformation Delhi underwent under the brilliant leadership of Sheila Dikshit! She served three consecutive terms as chief minister from 1998 to 2013, a record for any woman Chief Minister of the country.
I refer to the extremely unsatisfactory state of managing the power utilities. Dikshit was bold to privatise power distribution entrusting the task to Tatas and Reliance. Dramatic improvements were brought about. T&D losses, for instance, fell remarkably and utilities became viable. Ditto for the transport corporation that was brought under the state government.
Roads, rail, airport: what a leap!
In a short time, the road infrastructure underwent a spectacular transformation. A road system with the largest number of bridges, subways, wide lanes and a swanky metro rail considerably eased traffic movement of Delhi. Dikshit’s contribution to Delhi’s development would not be easily forgotten.
Delhi received high priority for the metro rail. Giving full freedom to the brilliant technocrat E Sreedharan, the metro rail took grand shape in a remarkably short time and emerged the model and pride of the country.
The trigger for accelerated development was provided by the Commonwealth Games 2010. A swanky new airport, the Games infrastructure and a whole lot of improvements to Delhi were brought about with the deadlines imposed by the games. Despite heavy rains and doubts about the capital getting ready for the games, the Dikshit government managed to race ahead and conducted the games successfully.
Of course, the corruption at the CWG and in other spheres highlighted by the Anna Hazare movement that threw up Arvind Kejriwal brought about the comprehensive defeat of the Congress and the downfall of Dikshit. Kejriwal’s AAP won 67 of the 70 Delhi assembly seats. Even as Kejriwal defaulted on the promise of performance and with the impact of anti-incumbency surfacing, the BJP juggernaut foiled the efforts of Dikshit and Congress to rebound in the parliamentary elections.
The administrative acumen of Dikshit resulted in vastly improving the power utilities and the massive expansion of Delhi’s roads, rail, and airport infrastructure. She made a lasting contribution to raising the stature of the national capital as one comparable to several other world capitals.
Thank you, Sheila. India will miss one of its most charismatic chief ministers.