Delhi Water Minister Atishi Tuesday claimed the city was staring at a "man-made water crisis" due to the stoppage of funds to the Delhi Jal Board by the finance department and demanded Lt Governor V K Saxena's immediate intervention in the matter.
According to government sources, the minister in her letter to the L-G alleged that Finance Secretary Ashish C Verma, on the chief secretary's advice, has stopped all funds of the Delhi Jal Board (DJB) since August.
She demanded that appropriate action be taken against Verma.
The allegation has set up the stage for a fresh bout of confrontation between the bureaucracy and the AAP government in Delhi. No immediate reaction was available from the chief secretary or the finance secretary over allegations by Atishi.
However, sources in the planning department said that Rs 1,598 crore was released to the DJB in June. More funds will be released "based on evidence of the progress of works and geotagging for ensuring that public funds are not being misappropriated", a source said.
According to sources in the finance department, the government does not give funds to the DJB for salaries or repairs and maintenance.
"These are to be met from the DJB's own revenues. Also, running water and sewage treatment plants is the DJB's responsibility. So it is wrong to say that water supply or sewage treatment will stop," a source claimed.
Delhi government provides loans and grants only for new works and funds are to be released based on the progress on the ground, the sources added.
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." The minister alleged that 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 Ashish C Verma has malafide intent and plans to prevent the release of the second instalment of the Grant-in-aid and loan to the DJB. Ashish C Verma's obstructionist tactics have led to a severe resource crunch in the DJB," Atishi alleged.
She claimed that the vendors of DJB have not been paid and they have now refused to do even routine maintenance and cleaning work essential for maintaining the water supply and providing a functional sewerage 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.
"The responsibility for this public crisis rests squarely on Ashish C Verma's shoulders. It is shocking how an officer alone is holding the whole of Delhi to ransom with his shameful obstructionist tactics," Atishi alleged. She accused Verma of showing "unwillingness to follow clear, written instructions of the minister-in-charge".
Underlining that the release of grant-in-aid to the DJB is a pressing matter which impacts all people of Delhi, the minister said that she had issued a notice for a meeting earlier this month, but the principal secretary (finance) refused. "As the minister in charge of both the water and finance departments, I also stressed the urgency of the matter while informing Ashish C 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 alleged. The coming days might see severe water crisis, dirty water and sewer overflow in many areas. A threat of epidemic and emergency-like condition lunges on the national capital, she said.
"For a critical public utility like water, funds have to be released in a matter of hours, not even days, since it is the lifeline of the city," Atishi stressed. "This is a man-made crisis waiting to happen in the national capital and will lead to an unprecedented public health crisis, all due to the obstructionism and delay and dilatory tactics adopted by Ashish C Verma," she said.
The minister recommended suspension of and disciplinary action against Verma in the matter. "For critical utilities like water and sewer works, regular funds cannot be stopped under any circumstances. Therefore, the second instalment of the grant in aid and loan for the DJB under the Budget Estimates 2023-24 be immediately released to the DJB," Atishi said. If there is indeed evidence of past irregularities in the functioning of the DJB, then action should be taken against all such errant officers, she demanded.
Sharing a timeline of events, she said for the financial year 2023-24, a Budget Estimate (Plan) of Rs 4,839.50 crores were approved as a grant in aid to the DJB, and the first instalment of Rs 1,598 crore was released in May.
In August 2023, DJB requested for release of the second instalment of the grant in aid, of which the amount pending as of October 31 is Rs 910 crore. Subsequently, the finance and planning departments have been putting up queries and "delaying" the funds, Atishi said.
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