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People-oriented budget

People-oriented budget
In its Rs 48,000 crore budget for the national capital, the Aam Aadmi Party government has once again affirmed its desire to focus on critical human development indicators—improving health, education infrastructure and water distribution. Education, for example, accounted for a whopping 24% of the total budget, a massive step in a country where this sector is criminally underfunded.

The government announced a total expenditure of Rs 11,300 crore on education for the year. In two years, the AAP government has gone ahead on its path towards creating necessary infrastructure—new schools, classrooms, and clean toilets. The Delhi government's relentless pursuit on upgrading the quality of education offered in public schools has borne fruit, complemented well by the formation of School Management Committees (an institution mandated in Section 21 of the Right to Education Act) and activities like Reading Melas—part if its campaign for better learning outcomes.

For the uninitiated, the SMC is a body consisting of all the stakeholders of the schools, with three-fourth parent members, the Principal, one teacher, as well as the elected representative of the locality. Needless to say, these elements have contributed towards furthering the involvement of parents and the community in children's education. Providing for quality education, however, remains a long-term challenge.


Why the growing focus on government schools? Atishi Marlena, an education advisor to the Delhi government, spoke about why her party lays so much emphasis on public education in a column for this newspaper. "Over the last two decades with the deterioration of the government school system, parents are increasingly sending their children to private schools. Increasingly we find that those who study in government schools are first-generation learners, coming from the lowest socio-economic strata of society. Therefore, there is an increasing socio-educational gap between the school's staff (teachers and principals) and the parents, accompanied by a growing perception that 'uneducated' parents cannot contribute to the school or the education of their child," she said. But probably its biggest success has been to the change the perception of education, making it an issue of intense public discourse.

In the budget announcement, there was also talk of extending the mid-day meal scheme to girl students in high school, besides installation of computer labs and libraries at government schools.
Another area of focus for the AAP government is the health sector. It received an allocation of Rs 5,736 crore—approximately 12% of the total budget outlay. With the sum, the Kejriwal government seeks to strengthen mohalla clinics, polyclinics, and multi-specialty/super-specialty hospitals in Delhi. For the uninitiated, the Mohalla Clinics is a unique project undertaken by the AAP government aimed at providing basic healthcare facilities to the ordinary person's doorstep. Admittedly, it has missed out on the target of establishing 1,000 clinics by the end of 2016. Nonetheless, it is hard to deny that the project has grown rather popular among locals. As per recent figures, the government has opened more than 100 such clinics.

What these clinics have done is reduce the burden on tertiary care hospitals, while putting quacks out of work altogether. Admittedly, the project is still at a nascent stage, and there are a lot of grievances that require redressal. There have been complaints of lack of government oversight, shortage of space and critical equipment, and of course, quality of medicines. But for the everyday citizen to have such a facility in one's own backyard is a start.

Another important announcement in the government's budget is that the national capital will get 20 more air quality monitoring stations. Reports indicate that these stations will aid in the process of mapping out exposure to pollutants in various neighbourhoods, which would better facilitate counter actions. The key to success, however, will be in how these stations are designed to capture the required data. There is also a greater emphasis on the expansion of CNG coverage for commercial vehicles while promoting electric vehicle programme for auto-rickshaws. In a recent column, Sarath Guttikunda, a leading expert on urban air pollution in India, illustrated some of the long-term policy measures Delhi needs to take. But the crux of his column talked about what it means to take the long view.

"Real policy is not short-term emergency measures that are defensive in nature," writes Guttikunda. "We need a proactive policy spanning multiple years, and we need to act fast, local and through multiple agencies across multiple political parties to take the long view on air pollution in Delhi." Families are already moving out to the city to avoid the pollution. Some have installed expensive air purifiers. Those who cannot move out or afford the latest anti-pollution technology are suffering. This is why a paltry allocation of Rs 100 crore for new DTC buses and construction of bus depots from the Rs 5,506 earmarked for the transport sector is unfortunate. There is a lack of sufficient proposals for a comprehensive improvement in bus transportation.

Delhi desperately needs to reduce the number of private vehicles on the road. The Delhi Master Plan has set a target of 80% public transport ridership by 2020. Even with a fully functioning Delhi Metro, a mere 20% of travel demand is met, as per estimates issued by RITES, a government enterprise, which specialises in the field of transport infrastructure. Public bus transport, meanwhile, will meet more than 70% of the public transport demand, according to RITES.

What sets this year's budget apart from other states, according to Delhi Finance Minister Manish Sisodia, is the formulation of an Outcome Budget that does not only emphasise financial outlays. "This outcome budget will constitute a contract between Delhi government - and, therefore, each department official - and the people of Delhi. When we allocate money for skywalk, merely constructing it would not be counted as a success. Its success would depend on how many people actually use it. That, in a nutshell, explains the objective of the outcome component," he said. We will see how far the government sticks with this approach. Nonetheless, the emphasis on social spending without the introduction of any new tax or a hike in existing tax rates is commendable.
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