Interview: Foundations now solid, Delhi can soar, Sisodia tells HT

Manish Sisodia spoke about the Centre’s MCD merger bill, the AAP’s ambitions in other states, and other challenges facing the national capital. 
Delhi deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia
Delhi deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia
Updated on Mar 28, 2022 05:07 AM IST
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ByAlok KN Mishra & Sweta Goswami, New Delhi

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has built solid foundations and accumulated resources to expand its focus from health and education to other crucial areas, including employment and businesses, Delhi’s deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia said in an interview with HT’s Alok KN Mishra and Sweta Goswami, a day after presenting his eighth state budget in the assembly. He also spoke about the Centre’s MCD merger bill, the AAP’s ambitions in other states, and other challenges facing the national capital. Edited excerpts:

The size of Delhi’s budget has grown significantly in the last seven years and you presented a 75,800 crore budget in the assembly on Saturday. What have you learnt in this time?

I remember thinking in 2015 that if our budget was so large, the possibilities were endless. It was a big figure for us back then. Fortunately, Delhi’s economy has the power to fuel growth. It [the growth] became possible only because we identified our top priorities and kept working on them. At that time, we intervened to improve the fundamentals such as health and education, because these are the foundations. We also wanted to take up the issue of business, including markets, but we started off with very limited resources. We could not focus on other aspects, because the health and education sectors needed huge investments. What you’re seeing today, as Delhi’s health and education model, has been built with huge investments from the state government. Now that our foundation is solid and we have gradually accumulated resources, we can focus on other pressing issues, such as employment and businesses.

If there is intent, it [the Budget allocation] can increase further. This will be possible only if we increase consumption in the market. To achieve this, I presented the Rozgar [employment] Budget on Saturday, which will focus on eight sectors — retail, food and beverages, logistics and supply chain, travel and tourism, entertainment, construction, real estate and green energy. Promoting businesses in these sectors will generate employment and increase the per capita income, which in turn will increase consumption. Once consumption increases, the economy will thrive and the government will have better tax collection too, as a by-product.

Some of the activities that you said will create jobs are already underway. How will you ensure the quality of the two million jobs you create?

What is a “quality job”? I would say continuity is the answer. Any job that has continuity is a quality job. If there is demand then there will be continuity. Our Budget this year is a paradigm shift. When governments think of the job sector, they usually make policies or schemes thinking only of the supply side. They focus on increasing production to create more jobs. But our understanding is that whenever the demand in the market is strengthened, then jobs have increased. The supply side increases by default. If consumption increases, then more factories or stores will definitely be set up. But if consumption or demand does not increase, then even the few factories that exist will shut down. As the national capital, we have a population that consumes a lot. Delhi also has a rich trading history. So, if we ensure demand and promote trade or businesses, jobs will automatically increase.

How many vacancies does the Delhi government have at present and, since the services department is directly under the Lieutenant Governor’s control, how are these positions being filled?

I don’t remember the exact number of vacancies in the state government at present. But, more than 178,000 young people have been given jobs in various Delhi government departments and institutions in the past seven years. Of these, 51,307 were permanent government jobs given through DSSSB [Delhi Subordinate Services Selection Board] examinations.

Transfer postings of officers are not in our hands. It is with the LG. But otherwise, when any department of the Delhi government asks us to fill vacancies, in such situations, the services department works in accordance with us. So, it has not been that bad actually.

When we first came to power in Delhi in 2013, the number of vacancies in the Delhi government was massive. Between 2007 and 2013, only about 30-40 posts were filled. When we took over, I sought a detailed plan on filling the positions. Then, our government exited. When we came back to power in 2015, we started taking up the matter. We gave all the staff strength and funds required to the DSSSB chairperson so that they could start filling the vacancies.

What has been the AAP government’s equation with its services department over the past few years?

Barring transfer postings, which the Delhi government does not have the power to execute, our equation and coordination with the department has largely been smooth. In most areas, the department complies with a task any other department or agency lays down for them.

The allocation for the water sector has more than doubled in this year’s budget. Which projects will achieve fruition in the 2022-23 financial year?

A major chunk of fresh water that Delhi gets is currently used for farming, horticulture and so on — areas where treated sewage water can be used. So, we are working on a project to increase our treated sewage water capacity and ensure it gets supplied uniformly. Then, we are working on cleaning the Yamuna and strengthening our rain water harvesting system. Our water production capacity has increased from 910 mgd to 985 mgd, and this will increase in the coming months. Some in-situ work is also being done on the Najafgarh drain.

So, all this foundation work is done. In the 2022-23 fiscal year, we will start executing all these projects, which will require a lot of money, from bringing in the technology to building the required plants and pipelines. This is why the water sector saw the highest increase in its proposed outlay this year.

But, now the drainage master plan that the AAP government is preparing for Delhi will not only tell us about the existing drainage system and the faults within it, but will also have engineering solutions.

The finance minister of Punjab was in the Delhi assembly on Saturday as you presented the state Budget. Will Punjab’s Budget also have imprints of the Delhi Budget?

Punjab’s finance minister Harpal Singh Cheema and I had a good discussion on Saturday about tackling tax evasion in his state. In Delhi, we have received information about tax evasion on many occasions, but we are not able to do much because of a lack of cooperation from the other state. Now, at least the flow of information and the action necessary between Punjab and Delhi will be smooth. Officers of both the governments will now closely work with each other. Such discussions and mutual cooperation should keep happening between states. It helps us learn good practices from each other.

I will visit Punjab when their budget is presented.

Just like in Delhi, education and health will get a major chunk of the budgetary allocation in Punjab. We cannot compromise on that, because it is on these two planksthat people voted for the AAP in Punjab.

In the next year, which five major projects will be taken up in Delhi?

We’re getting on to several projects this year. Most notably, the upliftment of retail markets, as announced in the budget. We are assessing the specific needs and demands of the markets and will make a proper announcement with the plan and standard operating procedure in the near future.

Covid has impacted revenues significantly, the fiscal deficit in this year’s budget is nearly around 7,000 crores. Have revenue collections gone down?

Fiscal deficit is not such a major issue for us. We will be able to fix it very easily. Of course, revenue collections fell significantly during 2020-21 because of the pandemic. The markets were shut during the lockdown throughout the country. The whole country has suffered these losses.

What is the plan for recovery?

We are heavily promoting the market economy, which will automatically translate into more revenue.

The MCD polls are now likely to be deferred. What is the AAP’s plan in the wake of its preparations?

We will examine the bill and the Act, once it is passed, and will take action as deemed fit for the situation. Even if the elections are held one or two years later, only the AAP will win the MCD polls.

What is your first impression of the MCD unification Bill introduced in the Lok Sabha?

It is a joke. They’re reducing number of municipality wards from 272 to 250. This has no logic. It only has one purpose — to stop the elections. All of it is very silly. What kind of reform is reducing the number of municipality wards?

What is the AAP’s plan to financially uplift the MCDs?

There is no need in particular to financially uplift it. The body justneeds to be run with honesty. There’s a lot of leakage of funds there. They steal money even during the hiring of tipper trucks, so we can imagine what they do with bigger projects. This is also why garbage doesn’t get picked up across the city. The tipper trucks exist only on paper and workers don’t get paid because they’re [the BJP] busy eating away funds. The first and foremost priority must be ensuring honesty in running the corporation.

Since chief minister Arvind Kejriwal’s remarks on The Kashmir Files, the Opposition is labelling the AAP “anti-Hindu” for its stance on the film.

The Kashmir Files should be put up on YouTube if they actually want people to see it so much. All the money earned from it (they’ve reportedly earned some 200 crore from it) must be donated for the rehabilitation of the Kashmiri Pandits. They would do it if their intention was to uplift the community and help them, but the filmmakers want to mint money off the pain of Kashmiri Pandits.

But the makers of the movie will have spent money on production and other things.

Now they have earned 200 crore from the movie. This is no small sum, so now they can make the movie free for all to watch by putting it on YouTube.

The AAP won Punjab with a thumping majority. What is the plan forward? Which states are the next targets?

Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat are our next targets. We will contest the elections in these states with the same intensity that we fought the Punjab polls. I think that’s certain in our party’s approach now.

The Congress only has CMs left in Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan. Are you eyeing these states as well?

We’ll contest in these states as well, but the immediate targets are Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat for now.

Do you think the Dilli Rozgaar portal is successful?

It is. Just see the numbers on our portal — they’re outstanding. We’re now inculcating artificial intelligence, and in the next version we will see the portal match job profiles to postings according to the needs of the employee and employers. It will also train people about the skills that can help them grow and get better jobs.

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