The Aam Aadmi Party, which had secured a historic win in the 2015 Delhi Assembly election, is now seeking a fresh mandate. But this time around, the party has to go to voters with accomplishments, rather than promises. Delhi health and power minister Satyender Jain, who is responsible for key schemes such as mohalla clinics and free power supply, spoke to Firstpost about the electoral strategy of the party and its key strengths.
Edited excerpts —
The AAP's election campaign seems to be focussed on the Delhi government's schemes on health and electricity. But your party also faces the challenge of tackling the BJP's Hindutva narrative, which is gaining in popularity. How will the AAP seek to keep the poll campaign focussed on development?
The AAP is not a party that has a 50 or 100 year-old legacy to rely on. We are a party of the common people, and we are counting only on the development work we have implemented and the trust we have earned from people. We will approach the people with our work. A number of our initiatives such as the mohalla clinics and CCTV installations for women's safety have earned applause across the globe. We will certainly talk about our achievements in the election campaign.
But it seems that the AAP is apprehensive about the surge of Hindutva, to counter which the Delhi government seems to be coming up with freebies such as free electricity up to 200 units of consumption and free metro ride for women etc. How would you respond to this claim?
We are not giving any freebie to voters. We have given them their rights as citizens back. It is a common practice to collect taxes from the public and use that money to provide for free electricity and other free benefits to public representatives such as Members of Parliament. In India MPs are given 4,000 units of electricity free of cost per month. That is what a freebie is. How can providing free electricity up to 200 units to taxpayers be considered a freebie? Politicians want to continue enjoying freebies with taxpayers' money, which is why they term schemes to provide basic amenities like power and drinking water to the people as freebies.
The Delhi government had announced free rides for women in the metro in June, had promised to roll out the scheme within two to three months. Why has the scheme not taken off yet?
Discussions about the scheme with the Centre are still on. There are no differences between the Centre and state on principle. But I cannot commit to a date about when it will be implemented, because it is not under my department and I do not have the exact data regarding it.
The AAP, in its 2015 manifesto, had promised to build a power plant in Delhi. What has happened on that front?
We promised two power plants. But instead, we had to shut down two plants to contain pollution in the past four years. The Rajghat and Badarpur power plants are the ones we have shut down. After we formed the government, we came to know that there were adequate power purchase agreements between discoms and power production companies and there is hardly any need for Delhi to have its own power plant. Instead of starting new power plants, we are focussing more on renewable energy. We have signed agreements for production of 2,000 megawatts of renewable energy from solar and wind sources. Had we commissioned new power plants, we would have contributed to the city’s pollution. We are now focussing more on clean energy. The project should be completed within a year.
The Delhi government’s ambitious plan to open 1,000 mohalla clinics across the city is well-known. But many legal problems cropped up while implementing the scheme, on account of which the target is far from accomplished. What is your stand on this issue?
Rather than focussing on the impediments in implementing the project, I think we should focus on what we have achieved. There are 300 mohalla clinics functioning in the city at this moment. We will be increasing the number of mohalla clinics in a phase-wise manner. Throwing open 300 primary health centres in a period of less than five years is an achievement itself which hardly any government in the world can match. There are three more months to go. We are going to add more during this period. The people in Delhi are happy with the mohalla clinics. Only a few politicians are unhappy with it. But their complaints have given the scheme more publicity.
The AAP manifesto in 2015 also promised 15,000 beds in hospitals including 4,000 beds for pregnant women. Where do you stand now on the path of achieving this target?
Delhi government hospitals had 10,000 beds in total when we formed the government. We promised to add 15,000 more. The scheme is being implemented on ground now after adequate planning. Till now we have added 1,000 more beds and works of adding 3,000 more would be completed soon.
The Delhi government also has launched free electricity scheme for tenants in Delhi. What kind of response has it received from people?
The scheme is only a month old. We are creating awareness among the people about it. Once the people become aware of the scheme, we estimate large scale installation of tenant metres.
How do you rate your government's performance the health sector. How do you quantify your achievements?
The biggest achievement of the Delhi health department is that we do not have any cash counters in our hospitals. Medicines are freely available for patients. If any hospital fails to conduct an operation within a month’s period, the Delhi government gets it done free of cost in private hospitals. There is no income limit in this scheme. Anyone from Delhi is eligible for this scheme. Again, if the doctor has advised a diagnostic test to a patient, we ensure that it gets done free of cost. If a person goes to AIIMS, he or she has to pay for the MRI, but not in a Delhi government hospital. We have done 1,42,000 different diagnostic tests till now free of cost. All road accident victims are covered with insurance in Delhi. Any expenditure required to treat such victims is made by the government. Apart from this, we have 300 mohalla clinics and 25 polyclinics functioning, and we are working on starting 100 more polyclinics. Our focus is to facilitate a three-tier health care system, where a patient can visit mohalla clinics for minor ailments, visit a specialist in polyclinics and go to the hospital at the tertiary level. We are in the right direction.
What is the amount spent on treating patients in mohalla clinics till now?
Till now, 1.70 crore patients have availed the facility of mohalla clinics. More than 200 diagnostic tests are conducted through the clinics and all medicines are provided free of cost. The amount spent on them would not be less than Rs 200 crores in the last three years.
Since the mohalla clinics store their data digitally, the Delhi government by now should have a decent repository of data regarding the capital city’s health scenario. Has the Delhi government thought of mapping the capital city’s health scenario?
Yes, it is called Health Information Management System and we are working on it. We are computerising Delhi’s healthcare system. Once it is complete, we would have a complete overview of Delhi’s health profile and we will be able to know which kind of diseases are increasing or decreasing, and which areas require more focus to control a certain disease and which age group of people are prone to which kind of disease. We already have digitised the mohalla clinics and within two years' time, we will connect all the health care centres.
Let us come to the Delhi government’s flagship scheme of providing free electricity to the people. How was the financial capacity to provide lakhs of people free electricity achieved?
It is not something we have achieved overnight. It took us years of struggle to make it possible. When we first came to power, we halved the electricity bills up to consumption of 400 units. Then, we worked on stabilising the power distribution system. Once we ensured that we can provide 24 hours a day and seven days a week uninterrupted power supply, we launched this scheme. We had earlier seen that when we had made supply of water free up to 20,000 litres of consumption, the people who were using 25,000 litres brought it down to 20,000 litres. We hope to see the same phenomenon in the case of power too, which, if takes place, would result in saving of power.
How has the Delhi government’s revenue earning mechanism been tweaked to facilitate big schemes such as supplying free medicines and free electricity?
The only tweak we introduced into the revenue earning system is our honesty in governance. If the government is corrupt, people do not like to pay taxes. But when the government is honest, the people happily pay taxes, because they know that the government would spend the money for their welfare. This is how we have increased our revenues. We have introduced no new taxes. But we have enhanced efficiency in spending. For example, generally, setting up of a dispensary costs Rs 4 crores. But we set up a mohalla clinic at Rs 20 lakhs.
How is the government partnering with the private healthcare system in implementing the universal health insurance schemes? We know that treatment and diagnostic tests in private sector cost higher than in the public sector. How does the Delhi government manage to pay the bills of private hospitals?
We have fixed the rates for private hospitals. Though they are far lower than the rates prevalent in the market, they are 40 percent higher than what insurance schemes like Ayushman Bharat offer. Moreover, they get patients from us in big numbers, which makes it profitable for them also.
The Delhi government recently took an initiative to install street lights on private properties. What is the status of this initiative now?
Yes, this is a security measure taken in addition to installing 2.80 lakh CCTVs across the city. In this scheme, we are going to install 2.10 lakh street lights. We will request citizens to allow the government to install lights on their properties, so that we can save the money required to erect posts for the lights. We hope people would accept our request as it will further enhance their security. Earlier people were apprehensive of installing CCTV cameras too. But after they understood its benefits, more and more people are asking us to connect their areas with the surveillance facility. At first, we ordered 1.40 lakhs CCTVs and on account of public demand, we have doubled the number.
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Updated Date: Oct 23, 2019 22:13:02 IST