FILE - Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal.
FILE - Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal.

What lies in Kejriwal's Budget?

The AAP government in the national capital is set to table its 10th Budget in a few days. Anup Verma takes a look at the government’s priorities and people’s expectations months ahead of the Lok Sabha polls across various sectors of the city’s economy

As the Delhi government gears up to present its budget for the fiscal year 2024-25 in February, expectations are running high among the residents. While the Kejriwal government is bracing to address significant issues like education, health, electricity, Delhiites are anticipating targeted measures to improve their well-being.

Healthcare

One of the primary areas of focus for many people is healthcare. Delhi is the state/UT with the highest allocation in healthcare, setting aside 14.3% of its GDP expenditure in 2023-24 for medical services. The figure is more than twice the average allocation for health by states, which averages 6.3%.

The Covid-19 pandemic has underscored the importance of accessible and high-quality healthcare services. Residents are hoping for increased funding for hospitals, clinics, and medical facilities, as well as initiatives to strengthen the public healthcare system and improve access to healthcare for all sections of society.

For 2023-24, the city government had planned to remodel 15 hospitals and increase the bed count to 30,000 from 14,000, with an additional focus on increasing the ambulance fleet. However, the department made headlines this year with two alleged scams unveiled in Mohalla clinics and city hospitals, which have dented the public perception of the great model of healthcare the AAP has been projecting for years.

The medical fraternity, which works closely with the city’s healthcare, expects to strengthen existing infrastructure rather than introduce new facilities. “Despite being in the national capital, our hospitals lack basic diagnosis infrastructure like MRIs and CT scans. It came to the fore when a man t died after being denied treatment at multiple hospitals. CT scan machines at these hopitals were found to be dysfunctional while others do not have beds for patients,” said Dr Ashwini Dalmiya, president of the Delhi Medical Association (DMA).

Medicos also said that the strength of doctors, faculty and specialists should be strengthened in medical colleges. “We have increased the bed capacity at our hospitals but not the corresponding strength of doctors and nurses. The government should put more focus on this aspect. The existing infrastructure should complement human strength,” Dalmiya added.

Meanwhile, the doctors also recommended that the government put more money into health care. “Lok Nayak Hospital does not have enough digital X-ray machines. Hospitals lack basic MRI machines. Delhi’s cancer hospital is in a dilapidated state. We need to pump more money into the health infrastructure,” a government doctor said anonymously.

Transport

The transportation issue is a pressing concern for Delhiites, given the city’s congested roads and inadequate public transport system. Citizens are hoping for investments in projects aimed at easing congestion, improving public transport infrastructure, and promoting sustainable modes of transportation. Initiatives to address traffic management and road safety are also expected. Transportation reform is a focal point, with a mandate to augment investments in sustainable transportation modes such as cycling and walking, coupled with traffic management and road safety initiatives, which are eagerly awaited.

The upcoming budget will see remarkable changes in how the city travels. With separate allocation for RRTS and the introduction of electric vehicles in cluster buses, the Delhi government is aiming to achieve zero-emission last-mile connectivity. The government aims to turn 80% of its DTC fleet into electric by 2025.

In this direction, the city government is expected to push its previously announced schemes, which have been in limbo due to bureaucratic tussle. Sources said that the Mohalla Bus Scheme is expected to be launched in the upcoming financial year.

The Mohalla bus service, announced in the 2023-24 Delhi budget, aims to deplo shorter nine-metre electric buses to boost last-mile connectivity in areas with roads that have less width or are crowded. The AAP government has planned to procure more than 2,000 feeder buses to operate on routes that cannot be accessed by 12-metre buses.

EV Policy 2.0

Meanwhile, the Delhi EV Policy 2.0 is also expected to be implemented in FY 2024-25. According to officials privy to developments, the policy will likely provide further impetus to adopting electric vehicles in Delhi by offering incentives for retrofitting vehicles running on conventional fuels to electric mode. Besides, the policy will also lead to the setting up of EV charging stations in the city.

Officials said the policy’s objective is to ensure all commercial vehicles used by all categories of aggregators should be electric by 2030.

Meanwhile, the existing incentives being proved under the current policy will likely continue under the fresh framework. Currently, the Delhi government provides multiple subsidies on the purchase of electric vehicles, road tax waiver, purchase incentives of up to Rs 30,000 for two-wheelers, up to Rs 5,500 for e-cycles, up to Rs 30,000 on e-rickshaws and light commercial vehicles. Around 11% of all cars sold in Delhi currently are electric vehicles

Environment

Air pollution problem is a perennial issue that affects the health and well-being of Delhiites. As such, citizens are looking for measures to combat pollution, including stricter regulations on vehicular emissions, incentives for renewable energy adoption, and initiatives to promote green spaces and sustainable development. There is also a strong demand for investments in waste management and recycling initiatives to address the city’s mounting garbage problem.

Pollution

Pollution remains a significant concern for the people, particularly during the winter months when air quality reaches hazardous levels. The ordinary person is looking to the government to implement measures to curb pollution, including stricter regulations on vehicular emissions, incentives for renewable energy adoption, and initiatives to promote green spaces and sustainable development.

Finding long-lasting measures is critical to improve their quality of life and ensure a brighter future for themselves and their families. As the budget is unveiled, all eyes will be on the government to see if it delivers on these expectations and prioritises the needs of the people.

Education

Education is another critical area where the people seek significant investment. It remains a top priority not only for the government but the residents as well, especially in light of the shift towards online learning during the pandemic.

Parents and students are looking for investments in digital infrastructure for schools and colleges, as well as initiatives to enhance online education resources and bridge the digital divide. There is also a strong demand for measures to improve the quality of education and ensure equal access for students from all backgrounds.

New schools, adequate hiring of principals and teachers, timely disbursement of salaries to the guest teachers, money to recharge the tablets given to the teachers, better mid-day meals and improved infrastructure to facilitate children in two shifts are some of the expectations from the forthcoming Delhi government budget to be announced on February 15.

In 2023, the education sector was allocated Rs 16,575 crore, a slight growth from the 2022-23 Delhi Budget, in which the industry received the highest allocation of Rs 16,278 crore.

Last year, finance minister Kailash Gahlot announced that government schools and teachers will be given new tablets. Further, the AAP government had also promised to provide 20 new computers to each government school in Delhi. In FY 2023-2024, 350 schools were to be covered under this scheme. In the coming budget, the finance minister will announce the highlights and achievements of the academic year 2023-24. The minister will also share the feedback and results of 17 new Dr BR Ambedkar Schools of Specialised Excellence opened in this session.

The first semesters of the Delhi Model Virtual School and the Shaheed Bhagat Singh Armed Forces Preparatory School had also begun this year. The finance minister shall announce how these schools were felicitated in this session. In 2023, the BJP government criticised the Delhi government over its announcements, claiming that every year, the Kejriwal government makes significant educational budgetary allocations. Still, every year, a large portion of this budget gets lapsed. If the government is committed to the education sector, why does this happen?” BJP had questioned.

The education adviser and officiating education director did not respond to the queries. However, one of the members of the Government School Teachers’ Association said, “The government gave us the tablets to use for the official purpose, but for the past three years, we have not been given money amounting to Rs 200 per month to recharge the tab so they are lying useless with us. The government needs to check on this.”

“Secondly, the government talks about adequate school infrastructure and facilities whereas there are schools where children are forced to sit on the floor to study and since there are no adequate classrooms or the strength is too much, the classes are held alternatively,” the teachers body said.

Judicial infrastructure

Recently, the Delhi government approved a proposal worth Rs 1,098 crore for three court complexes in the national capital, aiming for a significant expansion to increase 200 courtrooms in the city. Under this project, the new District Court complexes will be built in Rohini Sector-26, Shastri Park, and Karkardooma for Rs 1098.5 crore, enabling people to get quicker and more accessible justice. Of this amount, Rs 714.19 crore will be spent on building the District Court Complex in Rohini Sector-26, where 270 lawyers’ chambers, including 100 new courtrooms, will be equipped with state-of-the-art facilities. The complex will have two building blocks of 11 stories. However, there is a sorry state of affairs in the lower courts of the national capital in terms of infrastructure, modernisation and overall management.

Digital Courts, a paperless and complete online system for speedy disposal of cases in the national capital, which aims to boost the disposal of pending cases in the national capital moving at a snail’s pace, shows court records.

Upon contacting, many lawyers in the national capital also expressed dissatisfaction over the delay of cases in such an innovative project. As per the court records accessed by this newspaper, cases are taking months to be listed, and further, the proceedings are found to be delayed, including the issuance of notices.

North Delhi Lawyers Association Secretary Vineet Jindal said the legal fraternity is waiting for more facilities in the lower courts of the national capital, and the Delhi budget-2024 should allocate more funds for the legal ecosystem.

Notably, in the Union Interim Budget-2024, the allocation for the Supreme Court was reduced from Rs 517.28 crore to Rs 485.49 crore. Under the head “Administration of Justice,” an allocation of Rs 456.54 crore, almost the same as the Rs 459.28 crore allocated in 2023-24, has been made.

This amount covers administrative and other expenses of the Supreme Court, including salaries and travel expenses for the Chief Justice of India and other judges, as well as staff and officers of the Supreme Court Registry. It also encompasses expenses for the departmental canteen, charges for professional services related to security personnel, and expenditures on various establishment needs such as stationery, office equipment, security equipment, computer and telecom equipment, maintenance of CCTV, and printing of the annual report of the Supreme Court.

The e-courts project, launched with an allocation of Rs 7,000 crore in the Union Budget for FY24, aims to modernise and streamline the functioning of the judicial system. It seeks to facilitate scanning and digitisation, to establish e-Sewa Kendras, and procure hardware and solar power backup.

With the approval of the e-committee of the Supreme Court, Rs 110.24 crore has been sub-allocated to 26 high courts, including the Delhi High Court, for scanning and digitisation, establishing e-Sewa Kendras, procuring hardware, and securing solar power backup.

According to the government, “With the approval of the e-committee (of the) Supreme Court of India, the Department of Justice has released Rs 102.50 crore for BSNL and NIC. Additionally, Rs 110.24 crore has been sub-allocated to 26 high courts.” The interim budget for FY 2024-25 proposes allocating Rs 110.24 crore to 26 high courts as part of the government’s e-courts project.

To conclude

In the financial year of 2023-24, the Kejriwal government unveiled a whopping Rs 78,800 crore budget, embodying the vision for a ‘Clean, Beautiful, and Modern’ Delhi.

This time, the residents of Delhi have diverse expectations from the government budget across various sectors. From healthcare and education to transportation and environment, citizens are hopeful for targeted measures to address critical challenges and improve their quality of life.

As the budget is unveiled, all eyes will be on the Delhi government to see if it delivers on these expectations and priorities the needs of the people across different sectors.

(With inputs from Jaison Wilson, Ashish Srivastava, Ujwal Jalali & Ifrah Mufti)

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