With the presentation of the Delhi budget due any day now, stakeholding citizens crystal gaze at every word, comma and fullstop in the finance minister’s statements. But Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia, who also holds the finance portfolio besides education, left little scope for guesses on what the Kejriwal government’s priorities will be for the upcoming 2022-23 state budget.
For one, the Delhi government came out with full page newspaper advertisement inviting suggestions from citizens to send their ideas on what the focus and specifics of the budget should be.
Normally, pre-budget public consultations around policy and allocations generally see associations and federations of different bodies from industry, enterprise and trade, and some NGOs knocking at the doors of the finance department, hoping to pitch their demands and requests effectively. This year too they did that and more. While many ordinary citizens too let the government know what they wanted done with their tax money.
“We will give special attention to bring the capital’s economy back on track after the losses suffered in the past two years due to COVID,” said Sisodia. “In this budget, the Kejriwal government will focus on developing Delhi as a hub for business and services.”
Just as he had asked his party workers to vote to select the party’s chief ministerial face for Punjab, Kejriwal decided to create a “participatory budget” for Delhi. “We want to know your views and suggestions on what new schemes should the government introduce and what improvements should be made to the ongoing schemes using your tax money,” said Kejriwal, through televised press conferences and other media.
People were urged to send their suggestions for the Delhi budget through the website of the Finance department. The suggestions had to related to specific topics, schemes and programmes that
- Help Delhi’s traders and businessmen in growing their businesses
- Attract buyers from all over the world to purchase from Delhi’s markets
- Boost Delhi’s economy
- Increase the income of Delhiites
- Create more jobs
- Reduce pollution
- Focus on beautification of Delhi
- Enable women to feel safe
- Provide access to healthcare and education for everyone
What do the people of Delhi want?
The response suggests that people who turn out enthusiastically to vote are not as responsive when it comes to participating in governance. Only 5,500 suggestions were received from Delhi’s voting population of 1.46 crore of 2020 assembly elections. Party leaders however were encouraged by the ideas they did receive.
It was hardly any surprise that many in trade and industry, particularly the MSMEs, wanted a programme for them along the lines of the Business Blasters programme for school children. This Entrepreneurial Mindset Curriculum launched by the Delhi government for senior students was meant to create an entrepreneurial mindset among students, encouraging them to set up start ups with help to raise funding.
Effectively, the MSMEs wanted the government to provide a platform where they could showcase their work before potential investors, who would help grow their businesses grow. Sources in the government would obviously not comment on this being part of the Budget 2022-23, but this idea has takers within the government.
MSME business in Delhi
As of 2019-20, there were 9.36 lakh MSMEs in Delhi, employing 23 lakh people. The total number of newly registered MSMEs under the Udyam portal developed by the union Ministry of MSMEs as on June 30th, 2020 was 10,23,2451. Less than 100,000 of these were in Delhi, but the capital territory ranked sixth, after Maharashtra, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Punjab. (Page 33, MSME-ANNUAL-REPORT-ENGLISH 2020-21.pdf)
Similar voices from industry and trade and suggestions from other sources on how to lift Delhi’s economy could well find place in the “Innovative Swaraj budget” to be presented in the Delhi Vidhan Sabha during the Budget Session from March 23 to 29.
In Delhi Budget 2021-22 the capital’s Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP) was projected at Rs 7,98,310 crore, 4% lower than the GSDP for 2019-20. The estimated total receipts (excluding borrowings) in 2020-21 was 23% or Rs 13,165 crores short of the budget estimate, primarily due to a 34% shortfall in tax revenue, as businesses were hit by the second wave that took a huge toll of lives as well. The unemployment rate in Delhi was 10.4%, significantly higher than the all-India unemployment rate of 5.8%, according to the Periodic Labour Force Survey.
Economic revival and job creation
The government is buoyed by the Economic Survey 2021-22 tabled in Parliament on January 31st, stating that Delhi has replaced Bengaluru as the startup capital of India, with over 5000 recognised startups added between April 2019 and December 2021.
Kejriwal now dreams of Delhi playing a stellar role in realising India’s dream of becoming a $5 trillion economy. There are indications that a new start-up policy will be an important part of the budget.
Among other ideas received was the use of school buildings for evening classes for adult education with emphasis on lifelong learning, and mohalla libraries. Indicating that sustainability and air pollution are important issues that need urgent action, some residents have called for a policy mandating electric vehicles (EVs) for porters and couriers, and setting up of small scale community solar power plants, localised community biogas units, sewage treatment plants and use of treated water for irrigation of city’s parks.
A few people wanted doorstep delivery of more services, a novel one being doorstep collection of hazardous and e-waste, another being cheaper parking for EVs, more e-bike rental points near educational institutes and crowded colonies. Delhi residents also gave ideas for tourism, improvement of public transport, pollution control measures, rural development, pension for all senior citizens, and beautification of the city.
“It will be an innovative budget,” said senior AAP leader Raghav Chadda. “The focus remains what this government has been saying: on revival of the Delhi economy and job creation, along with public welfare measures and people centric programmes”.
“I have suggested the government focuses on ensuring schools are not closed again in case of another wave of COVID,” suggested Preeti Chandra, a home maker in East Delhi. Her husband Nitish has also sent a suggestion – four daily night bazars in the capital, one each in north, south, east and west Delhi.
“Different welfare schemes including education, health, electricity, clean drinking water, would also be focussed on in the budget,” added Sisodia.
All this has certainly raised hopes that the budget will pleasantly surprise Delhi residents.