New Delhi: After the defeat in all the Lok Sabha seven seats in Delhi, the Arvind Kejriwal government is now focussing on the Assembly election in the capital city-State due next year. It wants to ensure that the fate of the AAP is not as pathetic in the State polls. To that end, it has tried to create a new vote bank: that of women. The AAP government has announced that women in the capital can travel by Delhi Metro and DTC buses for free.
Announcing this scheme on Monday afternoon, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said that the facility will start within two or three months. Representations have been sought from the departments.
However, the chief minister said that the subsidy would not be imposed. Women who are capable can travel by ticket. The fans of the Delhi government are calling this Kejriwal’s “masterstroke”.
Election Commission data show that there are more than 64 lakh women among the 1.43 crore voters of Delhi. On Delhi Metro, more than 26 lakh passengers on an average travel every day. About 30-33% of the passengers are women. Once the scheme is implemented, more than 8,00,000 women will be able to avail free travel facility every day in Delhi.
According to an estimate, the scheme will cost the State government about Rs 1,200 crore a year.
The Kejriwal government believes, sources in the party said, it succeeded in winning 67 of the 70 Assembly seats in Delhi in the 2015 election mainly due to the freebies it promised besides the strong anti-incumbency against the previous government of Sheila Dikshit and a lacklustre local unit of the BJP. The AAP had announced 20,000 l of water free to every household and 400 units of electricity consumed free for every household of Delhi, too.
An estimate says that the electricity bill rebate benefited 36 lakh Delhiites while free water benefited 18 lakh families.
Last year, the Delhi government had reduced the electricity charge by Re 1 – Rs 1.50 per unit although the fixed charge increased manifold. Nevertheless, even as the schemes continue, they did not seem to impress the voters anymore, as the AAP lost both the municipal and Lok Sabha elections in the capital city thereafter.
How women reacted
Reacting to the announcement of free rides, Ritu, a working woman, said in The Times of India, “Can women not afford metro rides? This is the problem with our society, Men and women should be treated equally. Rather, the authorities are always trying to pull us down by such petty moves. What difference would this cut make to us.”
Varsha Singh, who works with a private firm, has been quoted by the newspaper as asking why the metro rides are not made free for everybody. “The move to make it free for women will cause huge revenue loss to the Delhi Metro and the buses. Male commuters will also behave poorly with women passengers as they would now think that we are travelling for free and they deserve better treatment because they are paying for it,” she said.
Singh insisted, the newspaper reported, that the fares should instead be reduced or removed for people who can not afford it, regardless of gender. Her friends, Swati Goyal and Somya shared a similar opinion, said the paper.
“This move is just to garner votes before the elections. The disabled and poor men still have to pay while women who can afford the rides will be made to ride for free. Governments can not play the gender card all the time and get away with it,” said Somya to the paper. Women also have jobs and have the financial stability to pay for their commute, argued Vrinda, another commuter. “This move will politically hurt the Delhi government, and they may end up losing votes rather than gaining,” she said.
A minority of women commuters disagreed and welcomed the move. “There will be those people who will criticise this at first as they might feel that they will be looked down upon by the men. But the same set of people will also take advantage of it later. This move will encourage more and more women to travel by metro, as it is safer than other modes of transport,” said Sheetal Ravi.
“I think this is a very good move and for people like me who spend around Rs 200 on metro rides every day, it comes as a boon because, at the end of the month, I will be able to save a lot,” said Sahista, who works at a private company.