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Voters will elect 272 members to the three Municipal Corporations of Delhi on April 23. The election provides a chance to the Congress to return to some kind of political limelight; it can be a verdict on the success or otherwise of the Aam Aadmi Party’s term in the state government; and for the BJP, in the words of its president Amit Shah, it can be a stepping stone to victory in the next Assembly election.
The North, South and East MCDs — the lowest level of governance in the national capital, and the closest to the lives of its citizens — together provide civic services to 95% of Delhi population. The election is contested on the most basic issues of daily living — sanitation, primary education, primary health, parking, roads up to 60 ft in width, parks, pollution control and pensions.
These issues also constitute the primary functions of the MCDs — and, by all accounts, the BJP’s performance has been less than impressive. What do the three main parties — the BJP, AAP and Congress — have to say about the key issues in the election?
Clean public toilets and sanitation are listed at Nos. 10 and 11 in the BJP’s sankalp patra (manifesto). The five-page manifesto brought out by the Congress has a section on sanitation, and promises to rid Delhi of its mountains of garbage, besides ensuring segregation of waste at source and curbing the use of polythene.
For the AAP, sanitation is third in the list of priorities — after the abolition of house tax and making MCDs corruption-free. The party has promised to “completely clean all the garbage in Delhi within one year” — a read-between-the-lines promise, also, of jobs. “There is a shortage of workers and employees in the MCD. We will employ more people and equip them with the latest state-of-the-art machines for cleaning,” says the AAP manifesto.
In the BJP’s 41-point manifesto, public health is at No. 4. Its promise: “world class health services through existing municipal hospitals & dispensaries and to further expand them”. Like the BJP, the AAP too promises “world-class” health infrastructure “like Delhi government’s hospitals, mohalla clinics, and polyclinics”. AAP has also promised free medicines and laboratory tests.
The Congress has promised to provide primary health services to the entire population of Delhi “free of charge, in a safe, respectful and dignified manner”. Transferring all MCD-run hospitals to the Delhi government will help cut the civic bodies’ expenses by Rs 652 crore every year, the party says. It is true that hospital infrastructure was unevenly divided as a result of trifurcation, and the corporations, struggling for funds, are often poorly equipped to run them.
There are 5 hospitals under the North MCD, 1 under East, and none under the South Delhi Municipal Corporation. A super-speciality hospital built in Kalkaji in South Delhi offers only OPD services, since other equipment has not been purchased. The biggest municipal hospital — Bara Hindu Rao in the North — has an annual footfall of 6.43 lakh patients.
As per the corporations’ records, more than 1 lakh students have dropped out of MCD schools over the last 5 years. It is unclear whether they went to private institutions or left the system altogether. The BJP has promised “betterment of primary education standards to bring them at par with noted private schools”, but has provided no details of how it proposes to accomplish this. SDMC spends the largest chunk of its budget — 22% — on education, and yet quality remains a concern.
Noting the poor learning outcomes in MCD schools, the Congress manifesto promises a complete overhaul of the education system “by establishing supervisory bodies to ensure quality education, to train teachers and to encourage active participation of local communities around the schools”. It will use the MCD’s unutilised land banks to set up a Delhi City Leadership Academy (DCLA), where existing and new teachers/principals will be trained in order for them to meet best-in-class standards of primary education, the party says.
The AAP has pointed to schools run by its government as the model for MCD schools. “AAP will make MCD schools like Delhi government schools and make them centres of excellence,” it has said. The party “will recruit more teachers in MCD schools and ensure that there are no shortfalls”. It has also promised state-of-the-art training for teachers, and reading rooms for students.
This is one of the areas in which the MCD shares responsibility with agencies and departments of the Delhi government. This is what the three parties have promised:
BJP: Will work on a positive plan for the capital’s parking problem.
Congress: Will set up a committee of experts and urban planners within a month of assuming office for optimising space for parking and adopting global best practices.
AAP: Will open more parking areas and regularise existing spaces. Will construct modern underground, surface and multi-level parking lots across the city.