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What does AAP want to achieve out of its new freebie promise?

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New Delhi, June 07: The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) led Delhi government has announced new freebie: free ride for women in Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) trains and Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) buses.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia, Transport Minister Kailash Gahlot, and party leader Atishi have been portraying a picture that free metro and bus ride for women is well-thought scheme and they have a blue print ready to implement it.

File photo of Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and deputy Chief minister Manish Sisodia

Atishi has posted a series of frequently asked questions (FAQs) on Facebook and claimed that women constitute 33 per cent of total metro commuters in Delhi.

She, however, didn't answer how she arrived at the figure as there is no mechanism in DMRC and also in DTC to segregate men and women commuters.

Free Ride, But Still a Long Way To Go...

"Delhi Transport Minister has said that the government has already calculated the estimated cost to implement the scheme. When you don't have the exact data of your target group, how would you implement a scheme for them and how would you calculate estimated cost?" wonders a DMRC official.

He also outlines the other problems which are genuine and without solving them the scheme is impossible to be implemented.

"You can give free rides to women passengers very easily in DTC buses but it will be problematic in Metro. The DMRC has done away with selling journey tokens from counters in majority of the stations and replaced the process with Automatic Token Vending Machines. These machines can't be programmed to give token to women passengers for free and charge fare from men. Moreover, neither Metro cards nor Metro tokens are designed for separate genders. The ticket-reading facility - where passengers flash their tickets or tokens to gain access to Metro trains - also cannot distinguish between a man and a woman. For implementing this scheme, the DMRC will have to go through a lot of transformation," says the DMRC official.

Since the DMRC is co-owned by the Delhi and the Central governments, the Delhi government says it will bear the cost of the fare that the female 'free riders' would otherwise have paid.

"In that sense the DMRC's revenue is secured but ultimately the Delhi taxpayer will have to pay for AAP's new freebie. The Delhi government should also clarify that how it plans to segregate women from Delhi to enjoy free metro rides as the metro services are being offered from Gurgaon & Faridabad in Haryana and Noida Electronic City in Uttar Pradesh in which many women from Haryana and Uttar Pradesh also travel," asks the DMRC official.

He says the quality of metro services will be badly affected as the 'free ride' proposal will likely lead to a surge in ridership by women.

Atishi also claimed on Facebook that free metro rides would make women safer.

"This move will help them return to the Metro's safety. More women in any public spaces automatically makes those spaces safer for women. This move will help women reclaim public spaces," she said.

However, how serious is AAP leadership about women safety can be gauged by a fact that from last six days Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal's office has not responded to a safety issue flagged by a woman on Twitter.

"There are no lights near Karkardooma Court metro station and it feels extremely unsafe to walk down home after dark. @OfficialDMRC @ArvindKejriwal @DelhiPolice kindly do something about it," Sonika Mendiratta, a journalist turned PR professional, tweeted along with four photos to prove her point on June 1.

Safety or free transport? What Delhi women need

On June 2, she again tweeted: "Still awaiting response from the concerned authorities. @OfficialDMRC @DelhiPolice @ArvindKejriwal".

Atishi also did not elaborate on how free bus travel will affect the DTC and how it would make women safer.

MoS for Housing and Urban Affairs Hardeep Puri has criticised Delhi government for failing to bring sanctioned 11,000 DTC buses on roads, which would cater to new women passengers.

Gehlot has said that the government is planning to purchase 2000 new buses.

It's notable that for making bus journey safer for women, AAP had promised during 2015 Assembly elections that it would provide marshals in DTC buses.

The fact of the matter is that there is a need of over 5000 marshals but only around 1000 are deployed in DTC buses.

Since Arvind Kejriwal led government has announced this freebie just after the AAP's drubbing in the just concluded Delhi Lol Sabha elections, political analysts see AAP Government's this announcement as a desperate move to win the upcoming Delhi Assembly elections slated to be held next year.

After AAP formed government in Delhi in 2015 with a historic tally of 67 MLAs in 70-member Delhi assembly, the party has miserably failed in every election it fought thereafter. It has failed in Assembly elections in other states. It performed poorly in Delhi's civic body elections.

Party's tally of four Lok Sabha members in 2014 has been reduced to just one MP in 2019. It could not win even a single seat out of seven Delhi Lok Sabha seats in just concluded elections.

A former AAP volunteer, who still has contacts in AAP, says the party leadership is deeply concerned about its political future and is desperate to keep itself floating.

"After recent defeat in Delhi Lok Sabha elections, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and his team have come to a conclusion that only freebies are capable of winning elections. They believe that the party's promises of cheap electricity and free water had played an important role in the party's historic win in 2015. Therefore they have come up with this freebie for women. However, they are wrong as even affluent Delhi voters had voted for AAP as they had seen a ray of hope that this party may give a different kind of politics and governance," says the AAP volunteer.

He adds that since AAP has miserably failed in fulfilling expectations of people and over the years has turned into just like any other political party, it's resorting to beckoning offers like free metro and bus rides for women to remain relevant in Indian politics, but it won't happen and the AAP would face a sounding defeat in Delhi assembly elections.

A political analyst tells OneIndia that since there are many operational problems involved in the free metro and bus rides for women so it is unlikely to see daylight, and it is all about votes and politics.

"Look at the latest developments in this matter. Hardeep Singh Puri on Thursday told media that the scheme is not feasible and accused Kejriwal of making a false promise. He, however, didn't forget to mention that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is all for women. In reply, Kailash Gehlot accused that Puri is lying and warned the Centre to not create hurdles in a scheme meant for Delhi women. So, it's evident it's all about politics and votes," says the analyst.

The former AAP volunteer says, "During the last four years of its governance, Kejriwal and his ministers have been blaming the Centre for almost every shortcoming. In fact, it's AAP's modus-operandi to come up with new unfeasible promises, like full statehood demand for Delhi during just-concluded Lok Sabha elections. When such promises fail then they just blame the Centre for them. And, they are well-prepared to do so again in the matter of free metro and bus ride for women."

He says sooner the AAP leaders accept that people are fed up with them and their crying mentality will be better for them.

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