Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal's decision to offer free rides to women in buses and metro may appear as a good move to many, but the announcement has surpringly generated a heated gender debate. It is also seen as a delayed political move aimed at appeasing a particular vote bank. After the Aam Aadmi Party's forgettable performance in the recently concluded Lok Sabha elections, Kejriwal may be trying his best to hold on to his slogan of development and people's welfare ahead of the Assembly elections.
Although offering free metro and bus rides to women is not an alien concept and has been tried and tested in many parts of the world including France and Luxembourg, in India where the women by and large are not commuting as much as men, the decision is seen more as a political move than a goodwill gesture.
Has the decision widened the gender gap?
Kejriwal has argued that his scheme is aimed at ensuring the security of the commuters in Delhi, notorious for crimes against women. However, one fails to understand how will offering free bus and metro rides ensure safer travel for women. There could be definitey many more women interested in taking the metro and bus for commuting purposes , but that alone doesn't solve the safety issue.
Instead, the AAP government could have spent more on the CISF teams that are stationed across the metro stations as well as ensure the safety of the women who travel in Delhi transport Corporation buses.
The critics have said that instead of giving blanket concessions to women (a mjaority of them may be working and not even poor), the scheme should have been meant for the people belonging to the lower economic sections of the society. As such the society would have benefitted as a whole instead of a particular gender.
Burden on state exchequer
The tussle between the central and the AAP government in Delhi is not a new one and fare hike issue in the metro is one among many reasons. Earlier, the central government had proposed a fare hike in the Delhi metro owing to increasing fuel prices, rising staff salaries and repair and maintainence demands of the metro line. But Kejriwal had held his ground opposing any such fare hike.
The fare hike consequently also resulted in a lot of commuters opting out of the metro services because the rates were no longer affordable. The Delhi government's decision of free metro rides to women is expected to cost the excehquer a sum of Rs 1,600 crore annualy and by far the AAP government has not outlined how it is going to bear the cost.