In many ways, Delhi is unique. It gets to keep and spend all its local tax revenue. Unlike other metros such as Mumbai, which contribute heavily to tax realisation but end up sharing it with the rest of the state, Delhi shares it with no one.
Having said that, Delhi cannot afford to cock-a- snook at the budget because firstly, its collections nose-dived last year mainly attributed to "the global meltdown." Delhi's share of central taxes remains frozen at Rs. 325 crores for the last decade.
More importantly, with several grand plans to showcase Delhi for the Commonwealth Games, money is needed to make dreams come true. The CM can rejoice because the central assistance, which was just Rs. 841 crore last year, has shot up to nearly Rs 2500 crore in this budget. Of this, Rs 1000 crore is for the Commonwealth Games — a jump from around Rs 400 crore last year. But considering the entire Games budget is over Rs 3400 crore, says Delhi's finance minister A.K. Walia, "there is scope to plead for a larger share to come to Delhi and we're going to do it".
If Delhi has advantages, it also has huge challenges. It is constantly contending with a huge influx of people because of great education and medical facilities, better public transport and employment avenues. For all the grumbling that goes on, an independent survey has shown 80% of its residents want to continue living in the city.
Therefore, the budget jump to Rs 1130 crore under JNNRUM from last year's Rs 153 crore is excellent news. The unplanned influx of lakhs of migrants stretches Delhi's capacity to provide water, sewerage, and housing. Under the Mission, housing for the poor is being taken up in a big way. The list of projects includes big-time slum relocation. One can hope projects held up for land acquisition and other clearances get smoothened out quickly. Delhi's capacity for garbage collection and treatment needs massive augmentation. It should not be swept under the carpet (literally!)
Among JNNRUM projects, one can definitely expect the redevelopment of Connaught Place and the promised 1500 new low-floor buses to arrive.
Delhi has the dubious distinction of running over 57 lakh vehicles with 85 cars per 1000 people, compared with India’s overall car density which is pegged at 8 cars per 1000! So more flyovers, wider roads, and more space means more vehicles vying for space, more noise, more congestion and more pollution. One can only hope that street-lighting, landscaping and "face-lifting", that were part of Delhi's original plan, do not get pruned in the eternal quest for more road space. Delhi could do with a little more prettiness to offset all the construction surrounding us.
On the whole it's a great budget for Delhiites.
(The writer is former chief secretary of Delhi)