Reality check on AAP claims as party gets ready for Delhi assembly polls

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal (PTI Photo/Ravi Choudhary)
A small-time tailor who does sundry stitching work outside a housing complex at Patparganj in east Delhi, looked both happy and concerned as he came out with his two daughters after attending the 'mega' parent-teachers meeting (PTM) at a government girls school in the area early this month.  

His happiness was visible on his face as he found great improvements in the quality of teaching in the school. But he was worried too, as his elder daughter, who would appear in the  board exam for class Xth this year, was not good at mathematics.

“Her teacher told me that she is weak in mathematics. They said we will work on her mathematics and you too must see that she works on the subject at home,” he  said, heaping praises on the education system in government schools under the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) administration.

A maid working in a few houses in some societies also said that her daughter, who goes to another government school, was asked to improve her mathematics.

However, she wondered when teachers actually taught as she found they were busy taking selfies and texting messages on WhatsApp even while PTM was on. One of the tutors said the maid may have not known that the photographs were being clicked as proof (to be shown to authorities) that the PTM actually did happen.

AAP is relying on its work on school education to such an extent that the party has come out with a report card of the work it has done during its rule between 2015 and 19. The card is similar in appearance to the progress reports of students. The only difference is that the student in this case is Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal and the address given on the 'report card’ is Delhi.

The report card says the Delhi government trebled expenditure on education from Rs 6,600 crore to Rs 15,600 crore during its five-year rule that ends in February, when the elections to the assembly will be held.

Teachers agreed that they have much more funds to buy stuff for children. There are clubs devoted to science, sports, drawing etc, which now have much more resources than earlier, they said.

However, some of them regretted that the focus is more on improving quantity of education than quality. According to the report card, the result of government schools was better than that of private ones for the first time – 96.2 per cent students passed XIIth class in government schools against 93 per cent in private schools  in 2019.The government’s focus is on quantity and it is thrusting this on teachers, says a teacher on the condition of anonymity.

For instance, teachers are given show-cause notices if students fail in board exams. “We want to write lack of attendance in the school as the reason but can't, because parents put political pressure on us to let their students sit for the exam. Minimum attendance is required for students to write exams. Once we let students appear, we cannot cite absence as the reason for their failure,” one teacher said.

Rukmani Banjeri, CEO of Pratham, said AAP has been serious about its focus on education and has consistently worked for five years on many aspects such as teachers, infrastructure, and method of instruction.

Banjeri said while she had not gone through the budget numbers, she was sure all this was possible due to the financial support provided to education.

Muhalla clinics or local dispensaries:

Some ten ladies with their kids were in a queue at one such clinic, an invention of the AAP government, at West Vinod Nagar in east Delhi. One of them said doctors there treat patients suffering from fever, headache, dengue, high or low blood pressure etc. For more serious ailments, patients are referred to government hospitals. Expensive tests like MRI scans are done free of costs once patients are referred to the government hospital, another lady said.

However, a third woman said the test for sugar has to be done from outside, after which doctors give medicines.

One has to only show his or her Adhaar card to get treatment in these dispensaries.

The report card says expenditure on health rose from Rs 3,500 crore to Rs 7,500 crore. The budget papers confirm this. The total expenditure on medical and public health stood at Rs 3,551.94 crore in 2014-15 before the Kejriwal government came to power and is projected to rise to Rs 7,300.86 crore in 2019-20, according to Budget Estimates.

Arun Gupta, president of Delhi Medical Council, said earlier people, including wage earners, had to go to big hospitals like Safdarjung even for basic health ailments and would spend up to three days to meet doctors, to get medical tests done and receive reports.

Now, people are being treated at Muhalla clinics, where MBBS doctors supported by nurses attend to them. Almost 50,000 people a day are being treated. Only three per cent of the patients are referred to higher hospitals, he said.

Cheap Electricity:

This is the one area that has benefited people directly monetarily. The report card says every consumer gets free power up to 200 units. This translates into 3.1 million households that are not paying anything. Those consuming 200-400 units get half the bill in a move that benefits 1.2 million homes, said the card.

Even those in the middle class say that they got subsidy in winters. During the summers, though, their consumption crosses the threshold for availing concessional rates.

The benefits were evident from the Delhi government's revenue expenditure on power, which stood at a meagre Rs 853.43 crore in 2014-15, but surged to Rs 1,678.36 crore the next year. It is further projected to rise to Rs 1,749.22 crore in FY20 under BE.

Revenue-surplus Budget:

Despite its freebies, which include free ticket to women in public transport buses, the Delhi government presented a revenue-surplus budget. While Delhi has been delivering revenue surpluses for quite a few years, the figure is expected to decline to Rs 5,235.69 crore in the current financial year, after rising from Rs 6,075.09 crore in 2014-15 to Rs 7,210.70 crore the following year.

AAP also claimed in the report card that it is the only state with a revenue surplus in the country. It is a grossly inaccurate claim. According to the Reserve Bank of India's latest report on state finances, 19 other states, including Gujarat, reported revenue surplus in their Budget Estimates of 2019-20.

The freebies in the form of subsidies are revenue expenditure and for that purpose revenue balance is the apt category to gauge the government’s finances.

However, new school buildings, more than 20,000 new class rooms, 4,300 new Delhi Transport Corporation buses and such like that the report card claims the AAP government has brought in, or is bringing in, are all capital expenditure. To gauge the government finances on this count requires a look at the Delhi government’s fiscal deficit. The state had fiscal surplus of Rs 218.82 crore in 2014-15 which turned into a deficit of Rs 427.90 crore in 2015-16. This deficit is projected to deepen further to Rs 5,901.90 crore in FY20.

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