Over 30 months after he became the Chief Minister, Arvind Kejriwal on Monday took charge of Delhi’s water and sewerage management system – and immediately issued instructions to overcome the capital’s nagging water woes.
But the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) denied that this was a signal that Kejriwal would now focus more on Delhi and travel less outside to promote the party.
After winning the Delhi Assembly elections in February 2015, Kejriwal had declared he would not keep any portfolio with him but monitor everyone’s work for overall better governance.
With Monday’s U-turn, Kejriwal will now head the Delhi Jal Board (DJB), which is responsible for supplying potable water to millions in the capital.
The water department was until now with Rajendra Pal Gautam, who still holds the departments of social welfare, Gurudwara elections and cooperatives.
Gautam got the water portfolio three months ago after Kejriwal sacked minister Kapil Mishra, who has turned a vocal dissident.
When he became the Chief Minister for the first time in 2013-14, albeit only for 49 days, Kejriwal had five departments with him including Power, Finance, Planning, Vigilance and Home.
But in 2015, he allocated all the departments to the other six ministers, the bulk of them to his long-time confidant and Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia.
This helped Kejriwal to travel a lot outside Delhi as he tried to build the AAP, frequently targeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
AAP spokesperson Saurabh Bharadwaj explained why Kejriwal had reversed his 2015 decision.
“Government and governance are dynamic things. When situation changes, you change your decisions accordingly,” Bharadwaj told IANS.
Asked if this meant Kejriwal would spend more time now in Delhi, he said: “You cannot draw parallels between the number of portfolios and the time a persons spends in his state… Even Modi has so many portfolios. Still he spends a lot of time abroad.”
A Delhi Government official told IANS that Kejriwal decided to take charge of the water portfolio because of the importance of water in people’s day-to-day lives “and the government is committed to provide uninterrupted and good quality water supply to people”.
Kejriwal’s stepping in would expedite the process of providing piped water supply to more and more areas in Delhi, the official said.
After taking charge, Kejriwal convened a meeting of DJB officers and sought a report on the timing and duration of water supply in every colony and problems faced including water contamination.
He said vacant posts in DJB should be filled up by promoting officers and vacancies at lower level be filled up on contract basis till regular appointments were done.
Kejriwal also asked for a deadline by which the DJB would be able to map colonies without tap water and the deadline for laying the pipelines.
He called for early buying of sewer cleaning machines to clean up the city’s choked drains.
Monday’s decision comes exactly a week after the AAP won a critical by-election to the Delhi Assembly from Bawana, taking its strength in the 70-member Assembly to 66.
It was a morale boosting win for a party which suffered a defeat in the Punjab Assembly election, a rout in Goa, lost one Assembly by-election in Delhi and failed to take control of the capital’s municipal corporation.