The Arvind Kejriwal government sought to fuse Delhi’s “smart city” ambitions with broader goals of creating opportunities for the underprivileged in a Rs 46,600-crore budget on Monday that made goods such as garments, shoes, school bags, sweets and namkeens cheaper.
Delhi finance minister and deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia gave top billing in his 2016-17 budget to education, setting aside Rs 10,690 crore, or nearly a quarter of the outlay, for a raft of initiatives, including sending teachers to train at Harvard, Cambridge and Oxford universities, besides creating additional infrastructure.
Health, social welfare, security, slum development and public transport received major attention, mirroring the government’s intent to walk the talk on maintaining steadfast focus on the bottom half of the income ladder, while turning the city into a metropolis that can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with world capitals.
While Sisodia, who quoted Roosevelt and Mahatma Gandhi, proposed a Bureau of Affordable Meals to set up “Aam Aadmi Canteens” for rickshaw-pullers and daily wage earners, he also announced the introduction of a premium bus service for the financially well-off.
No new taxes were introduced, but value-added taxes (VAT) were cut in a string of products that would make readymade garments, budget hotels and watches above Rs 5,000 cheaper.
HT reported on Monday about the government’s plans to cut VAT on these products.
“We don’t want to develop Delhi as a smart city only for a part of Delhi, or for a special group of people,” Sisodia said.
“We will tirelessly work to chisel this vision by enhancing people’s wellbeing across class, caste, religion and generations by improving their choices in health, education, income, expenditure, ensuring their freedom and providing opportunities for meaningful participation in society.”
Sisodia’s tax policies had a subtle political message as he looked to make rules easier for Delhi’s trading community, traditionally seen as a core BJP support base.
The moves were intended to draw more customers to the national capital’s markets and malls from neighbouring Noida and Gurgaon.
Sisodia took a dig the BJP stating the Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP) promises were not “jumla” (political rhetoric) but a “solemn pledge”.
“Our government is fully committed to reducing tax arbitrage and will attempt to keep a uniform rate with neighbouring states,” he said. For instance, the move to cut VAT on readymade garments to 5% is primarily aimed at making the levy identical with UP and Haryana, he said.
Likewise, VAT on marble has been cut to 5% from 12.5% based on the Delhi’s Marble Trade Association’s recommendation to lower the rate to “encourage people to buy marble” from the Capital only.
Besides announcing some big-ticket ideas such as exploring construction of two elevated bus rapid transport (BRT) corridors, Sisodia pledged to provide road and drainage in all the unauthorised colonies by this year-end.
“The world used to talk about the western model of development. Now American journalists are recommending their country need to follow the Delhi model to revamp their public health system. One thousand mohalla clinics by the end of this year means taking public health to every doorstep,” chief minister Kejriwal told reporters after the budget, patting his government’s three-tier public health system — that consists of mohalla clinics, poly clinics and super-specialty hospitals.
The government has finalised a Health Information Management System (HIMS), including a health card for citizens with a unique identifier to ensure seamless patient information.
Kejriwal said tax rationalistaion is part of the AAP government’s “commitment to bring down VAT rates to the lowest in the country in five years”.
The city government has decided to continue the 50% power subsidy up to 400 units and free 20,000 litre water to every household that was implemented after the AAP rode to power in 2015.
Sisodia announced extension of the scheme under which development charge was reduced to install water meters, to July 2017.
He unveiled an ambitious plan of bringing every household in the city on the piped drinking water map by December 2017. Reiterating the commitment of the government to wipe out the water tanker mafia, the finance minister allocated Rs 676 crore for providing piped water in 300 new colonies during the next fiscal.
Willing to take participatory budgeting to all assembly constituencies, Rs 5 crore has been allocated to each of the 70 assembly seats. But the amount is lesser than Rs 20 crore allocated to each of the 11 assembly seats included in the pilot project last year.
Kejriwal said Rs 4 crore from the MLA LAD fund would be used for development work through the 3,000 mohalla sabhas.