AAP rolls out 'pro-poor' budget ahead of possible Delhi bypolls; but it may not be enough to secure victory

With an eye on the possible bypolls in Delhi, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government rolled out a seemingly pro-poor budget in the Assembly on Thursday. But deriving political gains out of the move may be difficult for the ruling dispensation, given the party's not so glorious record in implementing earlier budgetary promises.

Though the AAP government in Delhi has always stood high in its budgetary promises, its success in fulfilling them has always been a subject of debate. Allegations of failing to spend huge amounts of government-allocated funds in the previous budgets and missing of targets have occupied public discourse in the recent past.

 AAP rolls out pro-poor budget ahead of possible Delhi bypolls; but it may not be enough to secure victory

File image of Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal

In its first budget in the year 2015, the AAP government increased the budgetary allocation on education by 106 percent over the previous year. But an Indian Express report published at the end of the financial year showed that a substantial amount of the funds in various heads remained unspent. As per the report, 31 percent of the funds allocated as plan expenditure, more than 93 percent of the funds allocated under Right To Education Act and 76 percent of the budgetary allocation on Rashtriya Madhyamik Siksha Abhiyan remained unspent.

Another report published in Hindustan Times showed that unspent funds in the health and education sector were as high as 34 percent of the allocation in the year 2015-16.

Similar allegations continued to surface in the consecutive years too, as former education minister Dr Kiran Walia alleged in a press conference last February. She said that Rs 1,921 crore allocated to the education sector in the last two years had remained unspent.

She flagged the issue again on Thursday just after the budget speech in another press conference held in the Delhi Pradesh Congress Committee office and asked, "What is the point in increasing budgetary allocation when a huge chunk of money remained unspent?"

The 2018-19 budget increases allocation in the education sector up to a whopping 25 percent of the total budgetary provision of Rs 53,000 crore from 23 percent in the previous year.

It is significant to note that the 2018-19 health budget itself points to the missed target of setting up of 1,000 mohalla clinics in Delhi, as it lowers the target to 530. Though the target to set up 1,000 mohalla clinics was taken up by the previous budgets, little has been achieved so far in terms of this flagship project of the AAP-led government.

Delhi health minister Satyendra Jain had declared the target to set up 1,000 mohalla clinics in the year 2016 and had allocated Rs 209 crore for it. But due to constant bickering with the lieutenant-governor over legal issues of the project, only 160 mohalla clinics have been opened till now.

Delhi government has continued to include this unfulfilled target in previous budgets. This time around, the target is lowered as the government plans to set up 530 such clinics by 30 October.

Delhi lacks adequate space to set up such a huge number of clinics in the capital city. It is alleged that this challenge was not taken into consideration while setting the target.

"The ruling party has been blaming the L-G for non-implementation of the project. But it is not acceptable because the government was proposing more than 200 clinics inside school premises, which was illegal and the L-G is bound by the law of the land to flag this issue," said Ashok Agarwal, a noted health activist in Delhi.

The budget also sets the target of procuring 3,000 buses for public transport. But then the same target was there in the 2016-17 budget as well, which till now remains unfulfilled.

Explaining the reason for non-fulfilment of this target, a source in the Delhi government told Firstpost: "Though the target was set way back in the year 2016, the government did not have enough space to park the vehicles to be bought. Five parking depots are now planned for the purpose and are likely to be ready by October 2018."

Purchasing 10,000 buses had been one of the electoral promises of the AAP, though till now it has bought none.

Performance of the AAP-led government in Delhi may emerge as an issue in the forthcoming bypolls, as rivals may attempt to corner the government on this front.

While speaking to Firstpost, Ajay Maken, Delhi chief of the Congress party said: "This budget is nothing but another attempt to fool the people."

The Delhi High Court is likely to pronounce on Friday its verdict on the plea of 20 AAP MLAs challenging their disqualification for holding office-of-profit when they were appointed parliamentary secretaries. Bypolls in 20 Assembly constituencies could be held in the second half of the year.

Updated Date: Mar 23, 2018 13:14:00 IST