Union Budget 2018: Centre continues to marginalise Delhi, ignores important issues that need urgent funds

On Thursday, the Narendra Modi government presented its last full Budget before the Lok Sabha Elections next year. Expectations were understandably high as in the election year budgets are usually loaded with sops and freebies for all classes and there is an inkling of tax relief for the salaried middle class on the horizon. However, Union Budget 2018 was, largely, an exercise in nothing — re-iteration of old schemes, cosmetic announcements and a lack of vision.

But more importantly, the state of Delhi continued to be marginalised in the budgeting exercise, much like previous years. This neglect is significant because the Centre controls and runs a majority of governance functions in Delhi through the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA) handling key areas like police, law and order, land, urban local bodies (MCD) and allied items.

 Union Budget 2018: Centre continues to marginalise Delhi, ignores important issues that need urgent funds

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley outside the Parliament House. PTI

The treatment meted out to Delhi in the 2018-19 Union Budget rankles and is distressing, to say the least:

Delhi fails to get its adequate share in central taxes and duties

Union Budget 2001-02 allocated Delhi Rs 335 crore as its share in Central Taxes and Duties while Union Budget 2018-19 allocated Delhi Rs 325 crores — a marked stagnancy during the past two decades. On the contrary, during this period, Delhi government's budget has increased by 450 percent from Rs 8,739 crores to Rs 48,000 crores with a corresponding increase in tax collection from Rs 4,400 crores to Rs 48,000 crores, a jump of 991 percent — a clear reflection of the aspirations of a rapidly growing capital city.

It is startling, then, that there has been no commensurate increase in Delhi’s share in Union Taxes, given the fact that Delhi has a decadal population growth rate averaging almost 50 percent and is the nerve centre of trade, commerce and tourism in North India.

Additionally, the 14th Finance Commission in February 2015, recommended that the share of all states in the Union tax revenues should increase from 32 percent to 42 percent — a substantial jump in the devolution of funds from Centre to state and a major boost to federalism and autonomy. However, Delhi was not considered for this increase on the pretext of being a Union Territory (UT).

This is an anomaly that the present day BJP-led government has been remiss in correcting, for Delhi, unlike other UTs, has its own budget and all its undertakings and transactions are fulfilled from its own resources — similar to full states.

Central Assistance to Delhi fairs poorly compared to Puducherry

The Union Budget defines Delhi and Puducherry as the only two Union Territories with legislatures. It is, thus, instructive to compare total central assistance, for the past three years, for both against key demographic metrics:

Source: Author Analysis of Previous Year(s) Budgetary Allocation(s)

Source: Author Analysis of Previous Year(s) Budgetary Allocation(s)

A perfunctory analysis of the above data betrays the fact that Delhi has been given a lesser assistance (Rs 790 crore) compared to Puducherry (Rs 1,476 crore), even when Puducherry is a significantly smaller with low levels of population compared to the sprawling metropolis that is Delhi.

Union Budget fails to protect Delhi’s Women and Children

Delhi, where law and order and the Delhi Police come directly under the jurisdiction of the Centre and not the state, witnessed yet another appalling crime when just three days ago, an eight-month-old baby was raped and is currently fighting for her life.

As per Delhi Police data, the number of rapes reported each year in Delhi, has registered an increase of almost 277 percent from 572 in 2011 (when the Jyoti Singh incident happened) to 2,155 incidents in 2016. That's not all. As per NCRB data, even though the average rate of crimes reported per 100,000 children in India is 21.1, Delhi reported a staggering 169.4 cases per 100,000 children.

It is then surprising that the Centre saw it fit not to allocate separate monies for women and child protection in Delhi.

A look at this year's budgetary estimates for the Ministry of Women and Child Development reveals that the funds for bodies like NCW, NCPCR have stagnated for the past few years. Also, there has been no increase in or structural reformation of the Nirbhaya Fund.

Even Delhi Police’s budgetary allocation sees a mere jump of 6 percent (from Rs 6,553 crore in 2017-18 to Rs 6,946 crore in 2018-19) at a time when Delhi Police is in crying need for urgent reforms like sprucing up of Delhi's traffic management and intensive capacity building.

No concrete steps for resolving Delhi’s air pollution problem

Apart from a passing mention in the budget speech that a special scheme will be implemented by the Centre to address the problem of  Air Pollution and Stubble Burning in the Indo-Gangetic Plains, there is no budgetary allocation or concrete timeline of the same in the Demand for Grants.

Also missing is a special package as demanded by the Delhi government for purchasing 2,000 electric buses to alleviate Delhi’s pollution problem.

Paltry provision for protection from natural calamities

For the past three years, the Union Budget has allocated a meagre Rs 5 crore to the Disaster Response Fund for Delhi which enables Delhi to meet any exigency, in case of natural calamities, without waiting for approvals from the Centre.

However, most of the governments at the Centre have kept the allocation for disaster relief and response astonishingly low and static when one considers the fact that Delhi is located in Zone IV which portends a dangerously high chance of seismic activities and earthquakes.

Centre's cold shoulder to Delhi continues

Delhi government has not been provided any extra funds for the Urban Local Bodies (MCD) which are suffering from severe financial crisis and have not been able to pay salaries of sanitation workers for months together.

This and an abject absence of any impetus to the Delhi government for important infrastructure projects makes this year’s Union Budget a party pooper for Delhi.

The author works with the AAP and the Delhi government on key issues. He tweets @pranavj142

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Updated Date: Feb 02, 2018 11:35:52 IST