New Delhi, Apr 19: The AAP government on Sunday kicked off its first "participatory budget" exercise amidst much fanfare and enthusiasm at a function attended by Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal in his deputy Manish Sisodia's Patparganj constituency.
As the ruling party sought to take the government closer to the people, the event also witnessed an odd officer being threatened with action over grievances aired by the locals.
Top Delhi government officials, including Chief Secretary KK Sharma, DM (East) Kunal and the AAP MLAs of the 11 constituencies that are being covered at the launch of the exercise were present at the meeting organised for the residents of West Vinod Nagar's E-block.
Other senior AAP leaders, too, attended the meet, which was described by Kejriwal as the "Parliament of the public".
"Villages have shown us the direction in this regard. They say, 'Dilli, Mumbai mai humari sarkar, humari mohalle mai hum sarkar' (In Delhi and Mumbai our government, but in our area we are the government)," Kejriwal told the gathering.
"If the experiment is successful, then the way democracy is practised in the country will change. Delhi will lead the country.
"Democracy today has turned into a five-year exercise. After elections, leaders turn into gods and misuse public funds," he said.
Pointing separately to the sitting areas reserved for VIPs and the media, he said, "We, the ministers, and the officials form the officers' gallery to follow your orders."
The residents, who were given sheets of white paper and pens by Civil Defence volunteers, were asked by Sisodia to pen down their suggestions and grievances "wisely" before handing them back to the volunteers.
"Decisions taken inside closed doors reek of fraud whereas events such as this, where decisions are being taken publicly, are credible... there are countries where even laws are made in this way," said Sisodia, who conducted the exercise today.
"Delhi government every year has around Rs 40,000 crore but, after various expenses, around Rs 16,000 crore is left for allocation to different departmental plans.
"A portion of that money will be spent for the development of around 10-11 constituencies this time through this exercise. If successful, it will be replicated in all the 70 constituencies (of Delhi)," he said.
After sifting through the mass of suggestions jotted down by the locals, issues such as the demand for a library, CCTVs, road repair and a dispensary were put to vote with those in favour of these various projects being asked to raise hands.
"Don't come up with generic suggestions, be specific. And don't raise your hands for every issue. Decide wisely because it's your money. We have earmarked Rs 50 lakh for Pocket E and the money would be spent on the areas of your preference and priority," Sisodia said.
Accordingly, after voting was held on 11 listed issues, Sisodia declared that the demand for a library got the maximum backing (230 votes), followed by dispensary (226), road repair (210), CCTV (197) and impounding of illegally parked vehicles (184).
"This is the most interesting aspect of a participatory exercise. In a closed-door session, who would think that there is a demand for a library among the public," he said.
Old-age pensions for five people were also approved after an on-the-spot "public scrutiny" of the needy. When an official raised the red flag and cited established regulations that call for greater official scrutiny, Sisodia said that they "will change the rules".
At one point, when some locals complained about irregularities in road repair works in a few localities, Sisodia called on stage the official concerned, a DJB executive engineer, and demanded answers from him.
"I want to make it clear that I will write your suspension order right now if the allegations are true," he reprimanded the officer.
Sisodia said that the entire Patparganj constituency would be covered by a total of 35 meetings over the next few weeks as part of the budget-making exercise.
Similar events were also held in the Mayur Vihar Phase-II and Sanjay Jheel areas during the day.