Atishi sounds alert for water crisis in Delhi, writes to L-G seeking suspension of Finance Secy (Ld)

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New Delhi, Nov 21 (IANS)Delhi Minister Atishi on Tuesday sounded an alert for severe water crisis in the national capital, citing the paucity of Delhi Jal Board (DJB) funds which have been halted since August on the instructions of Chief Secretary Naresh Kumar and Finance Secretary Ashish Verma. She has written to L-G V.K. Saxena in connection with the matter, and sought Verma’s suspension and disciplinary action.

Atishi, who was given the charge of the Water Department in place of Saurabh Bhardwaj, wrote to Saxena, saying the national capital might plunge into a “man-made” severe water crisis.

In the letter to Saxena, Atishi mentioned that Finance Secretary has stopped all funds of DJB since August on the Chief Secretary’s advice.

“Because of this, funds aren’t being released, no money for salaries and routine work is being sanctioned, and all contractors have refused to work,” the letter mentioned.

She also pointed out that this might lead to a severe water crisis, dirty water, and sewer overflow in many areas, as well as threat of epidemic and emergency-like conditions in the national capital.

Water Minister and DJB Chairperson Atishi in her letter said: “It is a very alarming turn of events that the Finance Department of the Delhi government has refused to release the funds that have already been allotted to the DJB in the Budget 2023-24 passed by the Delhi Legislative Assembly. This is a routine governance procedure and never in the past has the Finance department raised so many objections to stall the release of routine instalments of the grant-in-aid and loan to DJB.

“Yet, this time, the Finance and Planning departments have been repeatedly posing new and different objections each time the previous objection is resolved. It is clear as day that Verma has malafide intent and plans to prevent the release of the second instalment of the grant-in-aid and loan to the DJB,” Atishi wrote in her letter.

She also stated that Verma’s “obstructionist tactics” have led to a severe resource crunch in the DJB.

“Due to this, the vendors of DJB have not been paid and have now refused to do even routine maintenance and cleaning work essential for maintaining the water supply and providing a functional sewerage or drainage system in the national capital. Water tankers are refusing to ply and provide water to the slums of Delhi. This is bound to lead to a public health crisis and an epidemic-like situation in Delhi,” she warned.

She also informed the L-G that the responsibility for this public crisis rests squarely on Verma’s shoulders.

“It is shocking how an officer alone is holding the whole of Delhi to ransom with his shameful obstructionist tactics,” she asserted.

Atishi mentioned that this is not the first instance when complaints have come up against Verma.

“I have myself previously complained about his insubordinate behaviour in the past, and his unwillingness to follow clear, written instructions of the Minister-in-charge. Verma is a very senior officer of the Delhi government who heads the Finance and Planning departments, which in turn impact the functioning of every single arm of the Delhi government,” she said.

“It is a matter of grave concern that he has adopted this alarming obstructionist attitude. This unnecessary delay in releasing routine Grant-in-aid, however, is the most shocking of his actions and has far-reaching consequences for people of Delhi,” she said.

Atishi also said that the release of grant-in-aid to the DJB is a pressing matter which impacts all people.

“Keeping this in mind, as Minister (Finance), had called for an important meeting on November 15 with the heads of the UD and Finance Departments and the CEO of DJB to discuss the release of the second installment of GIA to DJB, issuing a notice dated November 14. However, in a brazen display of insubordination and willful disobedience, the Principal Secretary (Finance) refused the meeting,” she said.

“As the Minister in charge of both the Water and Finance Department, I also stressed the urgency of the matter while informing Verma of the looming threat of a public health crisis in Delhi, through my note sent on November 16. On the same note, I had also given clear, unambiguous instructions to him to release the second instalment of the Grant-in-aid to the DJB by 11 am on November 17, in the larger interest of the public. However, he has not only shown blatant insubordination but has also violated the All-India Services (Conduct) Rules, 1968,” Atishi said.

She also highlighted the repeated obstruction of urgent matters by Verma and said that the Finance Department under the supervision of Verma has been repeatedly alleging financial mismanagement in the affairs of the DJB in the past.

“If these allegations are true, then the logical action should be to recommend disciplinary action against the erring officers. The Minister-in-charge has repeatedly asked Verma to recommend action against any officers whose erroneous actions have led to mismanagement. However, no such action has been recommended by him against any official,” she said.

She also said that Verma needs to understand that the public cannot be made to pay the price for administrative irregularities as this is a basic tenet that any able bureaucrat or administrator should know In this context.

“Further, to resolve any mismanagement issues that have cropped up in the DJB in the past the undersigned has taken several meetings with the CEO of DJB, the Principal Secretary (Finance) and the Additional Chief Secretary (Urban Development). However, when the file for re-appropriation of funds was sent to Verma he has once again deployed delaying and dilatory tactics and no re-appropriation of funds for the DJB has happened yet,” Atishi said.

The Water Minister also said: “While the matter of re-appropriation of funds for the DJB has been pending and it is clearly in the knowledge of Verma that DJB is undergoing a severe financial crunch, he has made matters worse by stalling the release of the second instalment of the Grant-in-aid for DJB. This repeated and deliberate delaying of urgent matters that hold the power to bring Delhi to a standstill is a very alarming trend.”

She also pointed out that many officers have approached her in confidence and said that they have been threatened by the Chief Secretary that if they cooperate with the elected government then a vigilance enquiry would be initiated against them and they would be suspended.

“This has created policy paralysis within the Delhi government across departments as no officer is willing to work or sign any files. Never before has such a situation been seen in Delhi in 75 years of independence,” Atishi said. She demanded suspension of and disciplinary action against Verma be initiated for stopping the release of the second instalment of the GIA and Loan to DJB, thereby obstructing basic water supply and drainage or sewerage services, which will cause highly unsanitary conditions in the NCT, in addition to preventing access to safe drinking water for 3.29 crore people of Delhi.

She also demanded that the second installment of the GIA and Loan for the DJB under the Budget Estimates 2023-24 be immediately released to the DJB.

“If there is indeed evidence of past irregularities in the functioning of the DJB, then action should be taken against all such errant officers,” Atishi added.



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