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Delhi 2020 | Will it be another term for Kejriwal?

AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal during a roadshow in Palam on Monday.

AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal during a roadshow in Palam on Monday.  

The AAP government in Delhi has taken the surplus of capital and distributed it among the poor

With less than a week to go before the Assembly election in Delhi, campaigning has reached a fever pitch. The Bharatiya Janata Party’s speeches, pegged to the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the proposed National Register of Citizens (NRC), have gotten shriller. While the party is busy painting the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) as ‘anti-Hindu’, and the protesters at Shaheen Bagh as ‘anti-national’, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal continues to focus on civic issues in his campaign speeches. The Congress, which failed to win a single seat in the 2015 Assembly election, barely seems to be in the picture. Mr. Kejriwal insists these elections are being fought on the “work done by the Delhi government”. When asked about the relevance of the CAA and NRC in the campaign, he said, “Electricity, water, education, schools, hospitals are the issues.”

Surplus of capital

This emphasis is important. Indian cities, especially large metros, are becoming more and more exclusionary towards the marginalised. Delhi has always been a city of the poor, displaced and dispossessed. Over the years, large development projects and master plans have pushed the poor further to the peripheries, depriving them of access to good healthcare facilities, education and infrastructure. Oxfam reports that while India is one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, it is also one of the most unequal. But Mr. Kejriwal’s five years of rule have provided poor citizens a glimmer of hope.

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Cities are the greatest generators of wealth and innovation. In India, they contribute about 60% of the GDP. A huge surplus is generated through the expropriation of some of the basic utilities and services in cities. Professor Ursula Hews wrote in the Socialist Register how ‘use value items’ have been commoditised. This, she said, has led to pauperisation of the people and the creation of a huge surplus for large transnational corporations. It’s not a surprise then that some of the large transnational corporations shifted their portfolio from finance to service utilities. In fact, the largest appropriation of capital is taking place through either direct privatisation or backdoor privatisation of utilities such as health, education, water, and even sanitation. The Smart Cities project further facilitated this growth of surplus by allowing the Internet of Things to govern cities and charging residents for the services being offered.

Electricity and health

It is against this backdrop that the Kejriwal government has tried to democratise this surplus and distribute it among the citizens. This has happened in various ways. Take, for example, water distribution and billing in Delhi. Every family in Delhi that consumes less than 20 KL (kilolitres, or 1,000 litres) is not charged for water. Similarly, for electricity consumption of up to 200 units, there is no charge. For those consuming 201-400 units a month, approximately 50% subsidy is provided. Whereas a family in Mumbai, Noida or any other megacity in India has to pay more than ₹2,000 for both water and electricity, families in Delhi save this money and use it for other purposes.

The Delhi government has also established mohalla clinics, or neighbourhood health clinics, in Delhi. The government has created a four-tier healthcare delivery system comprising clinics for primary health care, clinics for secondary health care, multi-speciality hospitals, and super-speciality hospitals. According to National Health Accounts estimates, patients in India bear a big chunk of health expenses — as high as 61% of the total health expenditure — by themselves. Therefore, free health clinics help reduce the financial burden on poor and marginalised groups. As of now, 300 mohalla clinics are functional and the AAP government proposes to open 500 more. This will also shift the health paradigm from curative to preventive care and ease the health expenditure for citizens significantly.

The Kejriwal government has also provided free bus rides for women. It promises to make bus rides free for all students, if elected to power. This will not only help people save more, but also reduce the burden on private mobility. Given that Delhi sees spells of very high pollution, encouraging public transport is important.

Nearly 49% of the population in Delhi lives in either slums or clusters. These are the people who have got enormous respite due to the redistributive policy implemented by the Kejriwal government in the last few years.

Mr. Kejriwal may have flip-flopped on issues such as Article 370, but at least he has proved that alternatives meaningful to a majority of citizens can be developed.

Tikender Singh Panwar is former Deputy Mayor, Shimla, and Convener, National Coalition for Inclusive and Sustainable Urbanisation

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Printable version | Feb 24, 2020 11:52:33 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/back-to-bread-and-butter/article30728190.ece

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