Right in the middle of the Centre vs Arvind Kejriwal government faceoff over the Delhi Metro’s fourth phase, the Supreme Court on Friday took a sharp swipe at the Aam Aadmi Party government over its plan to let women travel free in state-run buses and the metro. It also gave the city government some advice, and a warning.
The bench told the Kejriwal government that it could not go around offering sops on the one hand, and demanding that the Centre promise to share the Delhi Metro’s losses on the other.
“As the state government you are bound to ensure policies are such that there is no loss incurred by the metro,” the bench of Justices Arun Mishra and Deepak Gupta said in course of a hearing on the Delhi Metro plans.
The AAP government had argued that the Centre must share 50 per cent of the land acquisition cost, bear equal burden for operational losses, if any, caused to DMRC and in case there is default while repaying the soft loan.
Work on metro’s fourth phase had been stalled on account of the dispute between the city and the central government. Last month, the top court ordered them to get work on the project started.
In June this year, Arvind Kejriwal had announced that his government would let women travel free in Delhi Transport Corporation buses, cluster buses and the Delhi Metro.
The free rides in buses will start from 29 October but there is no firm date yet for Delhi Metro. The BJP had run down Kejriwal’s initiative as a “political stunt”. The Delhi Metro Rail Corporation, a joint venture between the centre and the state, had been red-flagged the proposal.
E Sreedharan, the technocrat who had laid the foundation of the national capital’s metro service, had expressed concern that the freebie would go on to destroy “an efficient and successful public transport system for electoral gains”.
On Friday, the two top court judges also echoed Sreedharan’s concerns.
“If you allow people to travel free, then it will be a problem, if you give freebies then there will be a problem,” Justice Gupta said.
Justice Mishra warned of judicial intervention in case funds were not channelised properly and sops are continued despite losses.
“Here you talk about losses and fighting for sharing costs. You handle public money. Court is not powerless to order proper channelisation of funds… self-treated bankruptcy should not come in the way.” he said.
Keeping the peculiar status of Delhi – the national capital – and the pollution aspect, which is also the responsibility of the Centre, the court ordered the central government to release within three weeks 50 per cent of Rs 24,417.19 crore, budget for the land cost. This, the court said, shall not be considered as a violation of the policy and would be considered as a departure. The Supreme Court has been hearing the air pollution case and over a period of years has issued several directives to prevent a rise in the toxic levels in Delhi’s air.