NEW DELHI: The city is abuzz with expectations and demands in the run-up to the announcement of the Delhi Budget for the financial year 2023-24. Last year, the national Capital was put on the 6th spot in terms of expenditure across the states while it topped among the Union Territories.
As per the Economic Survey of Delhi 2021-22, Delhi is one of the most prosperous states in the country, with the state ranking at number three in per capita income, behind Sikkim and Goa.
The Budget Session of the Delhi Assembly will commence on March 17 and will conclude on March 23. The budget for the year 2023-24 will be presented on March 21 by Kailash Gahlot who holds the finance portfolio after the resignation of Manish Sisodia, currently behind bars in the liquor policy case.
Gahlot has gone on the record to say, “The upcoming budget will prove to be a milestone in achieving the goals of making Delhi a world-class city for its citizens.”
The Delhi govt has held interactions with experts, activists, and professionals from all walks of life to get a sense of the citizens’ expectations.
The education sector received the highest allocation in the Delhi Budget 2022-23, getting 22 per cent of the share. The city government had proposed a total outlay of Rs 16,278 crore, including Rs 14,412 crore under revenue and Rs 1,866 crore under capital expenditure. However, this was a decline from the budget for 2021-22 when the sector was allocated Rs 16,377 crore.
Stakeholders that this newspaper spoke to expressed hope that the upcoming budget would increase the salaries of the teaching staff, scholarships for students, and financial support to private schools.
Ajay Veer Yadav, general secretary of the Government Teachers Association (GTA) said, “The govt launched various programs like ‘Business Blasters’ but none of them give direct monetary help to needy school students. I believe the budget should provide for deserving children studying in the government schools to get some amount of money through scholarships in such a way that this help reaches their parents as well.”
He added, “The budget should also consider increasing the salaries of the teachers and ensure their timely disbursal. Despite hard work, we keep struggling without salaries for months.” Meanwhile, Anurag Kundu, Chairperson of the Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights (DCPCR) said, “I hope the upcoming budget will focus on strengthening Delhi's education revolution and focus on ensuring the health, and nutritional recovery for children of Delhi.”
Bharat Arora, president of the Action Committee of Unaided Private Schools, said, “The budget financial year must emphasise supporting private schools. Private schools in Delhi have played a significant role in nation-building and thus the government must support them. EWS reimbursements for private schools must be increased.”
A Delhi school teacher, Charu Jindal, said she hopes this year's budget focuses on enhancing the technological development of the schools in the city and also the adoption of schemes that can be used for the mental well-being of school children.
"There have been initiatives to improve the infrastructure but we have so far been able to work upon basic infrastructure only," she said. "We must improvise the infrastructure by providing technologically-advanced infrastructure in terms of advanced laboratories and research institutions to enhance the learning skills of the students," she added.
After education, the health sector received the biggest share in the budget expenditure of 2022-23 with an estimate of Rs 9,769 crore, which came to around 13 per cent. The AAP-led Delhi govt has continuously claimed and maintained that it is committed to improving the education and health sectors.
However, the nursing cadre, among others, complains of being hugely neglected by the government. "The government should give attention to the nursing profession which is totally neglected by the current regime," said Anita Panwar, president, the All India Government Nurses Federation (AIGNF).
"All Delhi government hospitals are functioning with only 40 per cent of nurses. New hospitals and departments are being opened without creating posts of nurses at the junior level as well as senior level. The outsourcing of the nursing profession should be stopped immediately and a provision should be made for regular appointments," she demanded.
The association also demanded that the government should restart state awards for nurses which was halted in 2015. It also said that provisions should be made to allow nurses to get internship money which has been revised by the Central government, at par with the medical interns.
Apart from health and education sectors, there is a huge expectation that the city government would invest in a sector that has grown significantly and has a lasting impact on the environment: Electric Vehicles (EV). Environmentalists said that Delhi's Budget for 2023-2024 should call for clean energy.
"Promoting electric vehicles is the need of the hour and the upcoming budget should lay emphasis on this," said noted environmentalist Akash Vashishtha.
“The budget should focus to prioritize decarbonization and accelerate energy transition towards renewable energy. The right steps must be taken to promote the development of a manufacturing and support ecosystem to enable such remarkable transition," he added.
"Norms to boost the adoption of EVs should be put in place, such as providing additional subsidy apart from the FAME ll scheme etc, which will help in the reduction of pollution – a huge problem in Delhi. The budget should also stress on the installation of clean energy-based technology. In addition, it should also incentivise policies to promote solar exports which will help the national capital in increasing its share in the rising global solar markets," said Vikrant Tongad, an activist.
Traders are unhappy
The traders in Delhi, who were quite excited with the announcements in last year’s budget, are unhappy with the lack of implementation of many of its provisions. They said that the hype didn't live up to the expectations. They demanded that the same be done now in a timely manner.
"The AAP government failed to implement announcements related to trade like infrastructure development, which included upgradation of five markets in Delhi and organizing a trade fair. This promise made last year should be made a part of the upcoming budget with a specified time frame for implementation. At a time when the traders in Delhi are reeling under great financial constraint, the Delhi Government should allocate enough funds for the development of business in Delhi," said Praveen Khandelwal, president, Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT).
"It is also necessary to announce schemes for access to finance for the traders, simplification & rationalization of GST tax structure and policy measure to streamline the trade and commerce in Delhi. Plans should be announced to set up Cyber Hubs in Delhi as the revenue of Delhi is transferring to neighbouring cities Gurgaon and Noida," he added.
"Delhi is the largest distribution center of goods in the country and the revenue of Delhi is largely dependent upon trade, there is a hope that the Kejriwal Government will do something for the trade and keep the trade its priority. Several types of licenses of state government should be abolished and only one license should be given to traders," Khandelwal said.
Senior citizens’ demands
The senior citizens have been a focus area of the Kejriwal government which has initiated several welfare schemes and also increased shelter homes for the elderly. The senior citizens expect the government to do more work for them and want a portion of the upcoming budget dedicated to their welfare.
"As a senior citizen, I expect a portion of the budget should cater to the demands of elderly people like free travel for senior citizens in DTC buses," said Anand Prakash (63), a retired government official.
He said the city government should introduce auto rickshaws and taxis that are reserved only for elderly people.
"They should continue free yoga classes and health camps and open more public libraries and parks," he said. He also expressed disappointment that certain areas of Delhi were not as clean as the streets of Lutyens Delhi.
"Several times I have seen garbage lying on roads for days which creates a lot of problems. The city needs a better waste disposal system," Prakash said. "The people should have easy access to the healthcare system. There should be reservation of beds in government hospitals for them and priority treatment," he added.
Finance minister Kailash Gahlot has said the budget for financial year 2023-24 will turn Delhi into ‘a world-class city’. However, citizens and stakeholders are hoping Delhi govt pays more attention to bread and butter issues related to the education and health sectors, while traders say even last year’s promises remain unfulfilled, write Ashish Srivastav, Anup Verma, Ujwal Jalali and Ifrah Mufti. (AIR NEWS)