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Unfortunate that decisions being taken without connecting with people: Sisodia on L-G overturning Delhi govt moves

Delhi’s Deputy Chief Minister on handling the Health portfolio during a crisis, AAP’s plans outside the capital, and where the New Education Policy falls short

Written by Sukrita Baruah , Rahul Sabharwal , Mallica Joshi | New Delhi |
Updated: August 6, 2020 11:23:08 am
Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia during the interview at his office in New Delhi.

You took temporary charge as Health Minister at a crucial time, when Delhi had been struggling. This was also a time at which the Delhi government had to coordinate with the Centre. How was that experience?

For me, it was challenging. Though I had been monitoring a lot of Covid-related work such as food distribution and night shelters, I had not been very closely involved with health, because that was being looked after by the CM and (Health Minister) Satyendar Jain. I had a cursory idea, but I had not been involved with the nitty-gritties. I became the captain of a ship which was sailing at a high speed in a crisis situation, and I didn’t know who was working on what. Fortunately, Satyendar was handling a lot from the hospital, but it was challenging. In education and the other departments in which I work, I know officers in every district and understand the structure. Here I had no idea. Even as a citizen and consumer, you don’t keep track of who the service officers and so on are. But Satyendar was always available, and whenever we were having meetings, I used to keep him on the line on the phone.

You’ve been vocal on the New Education Policy. One of its focus areas is course reduction, of which you have also been a proponent. But recently, topics were dropped for testing in next year’s Board exams, and you were critical of the manner in which this was done. Given that course reduction is susceptible to controversy, what do you think should be the mechanism?

I don’t know to what extent the education policy will be able to achieve this, but the basic fundamental course reduction should be — are we teaching, or are we teaching students how to learn. Our entire focus in education practices is to teach. Till we don’t rectify that, the demands of syllabus will go on growing.

Atishi gave me a very good example of this. I had asked her the key difference between the Indian education system and her experience of studying at Oxford. She said here we are told this is the syllabus and this is what students need to study. The academic best practice is that the syllabus is indicative. It might be very long but certain sample areas are picked up and students are taught how to study, let’s say, history. Here we teach the syllabus, there they teach students how to learn. This is something wrong with schools here. The pedagogical approach to teaching will have to be modified.

You also voiced reservations on the encouragement to private ‘philanthropic’ parties to enter school arena.

This is a very wrong line to take. I was expecting that when we’re learning from the world, we should also learn that the world’s biggest economies run through a government school system… Here we don’t see that approach at all. That children of the country will study in government schools and quality education will be provided by the government system is not mentioned even once in the education policy. Instead, it is mentioned that we will encourage private philanthropic schools. Philanthropy is already there in name — all the DPSes, Modern Schools, Vasant Valley, you name it. Every school is a philanthropic school. So that is just a word they have used. But the question needs to be asked about how many of these are philanthropic. Supreme Court has to say that these are teaching shops. It is not written anywhere that government schools will be promoted. That is missing.

The arguments you’ve put forth on NEP — the criticism and analysis coming from Delhi’s education minister — one might expect out of the country’s primary opposition. Your party has also been speaking of a vacuum, of a political alternative. Is this the vacuum that you refer to?

At a testing centre in New Delhi

If we take the instance of education, it is very necessary to work on it with seriousness. You talking about good things, it is not going to solve the problems… If you don’t increase the budget… how will it work? You need training institutes, teachers, money to open new schools and colleges. Where is that political commitment and will? Do you think that’s lacking in the ruling dispensation and in the primary opposition?

Yes. Of late we’ve seen a more expansionist outlook of the Aam Aadmi Party, with comments on Rajasthan’s politics, and talk of taking the ‘Delhi model’ to other states. In an urban centre like Delhi, your ‘politics of kaam’ has brought you to power, but as you start moving outwards, caste, religion, etc enter the equation. How do you reconcile your politics with those demands?

That’s the challenge. It is our dharma to tell people that people should vote on school, education, bijli, jobs and economy. Some parties will talk of caste, some will talk of religion. What prevails depends on us and the wisdom of the people.
Caste politics is prevalent everywhere; in the middle of that, we have to find a way for the politics we are doing.

In Rajasthan, your attacks were directed more at the Congress than the BJP. Is that a deliberate strategy? Because that’s the party you believe is replaceable?

It’s not about being replaceable. Today the image of Congress in this country is that ‘We will vote for them and their MLAs will go and broker a deal elsewhere’. Then why should people vote for the Congress? Why should people who don’t like BJP’s politics vote for Congress? Goa, Manipur, Uttarakhand, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan — this happened in all these places. People who voted for MLAs in the name of Congress were not BJP voters. If they wanted a BJP government, they would have voted accordingly. The firmness within Congress is over.

If there are national ambitions, the party will also need to take decisive stands on delicate national topics, where some have found the AAP to be reticent or reclusive. How will you address that?

Depends on the time and situation, that’s how politics works. There has been another recent phase of tiffs with the L-G in which decisions by the Delhi government have been overturned. You’ve aired frustration on this front. I found it unfortunate that decisions are being taken without connecting with the people.You have used the word ‘punishing’ the people. It’s unfortunate that the Centre misuses their overriding powers through the L-G.

If the situation comes under control and we can open schools by early or mid-September, there will be a particular strategy: Sisodia

What do you make of the L-G’s resistance to your stand in the matter concerning public prosecutors for the Northeast Delhi riots?

They wanted a particular set of people to be advocates. I told them the Delhi government has the right to appoint them. I spoke to the Commissioner of Police and L-G, and asked them if they feel our team of public prosecutors lacks experience. If they need people with a lot of experience, there are such people in the country. Let’s discuss who we can get. It shouldn’t be that the police hands over a list they created. It might have been that we would have picked people from their list as well. There are a lot of independent, reputed advocates in the country who are known for their arguments for justice — let’s hire from among them. I said let’s sit down once and discuss. But they didn’t agree.

The Cabinet recently pointed out that the police probe is lacking, but the fact is that this was said only now, when you are in a face-off with the L-G, and not earlier when some issues with the probe were reported. Do you think the stand you’ve taken could have been spelt out earlier?

But the matter of advocates has only come up now. We have spoken about the performance of the police earlier as well, but this stand of the government can only be taken when the government comes into the scene.

In these last few months, we have seen that having digital tools is just as essential in schooling as uniforms, books and stationery, which are provided by the state to students at subsidised rates or for free. Is providing access to digital tools as essential resources something the government needs to do?

Providing devices and internet to 16 lakh children needs huge finances. It is ideal but we don’t have the money with the state in which the government is.

Speaking of finances and the economic situation, how deep in the well do you think we are and how long till we can get out?

It’s a really bad situation and we don’t know when we can get out of it. Our effort in Delhi is that people should no longer be afraid, which will take time. We are more than 50% short on our revenue and we are analysing the filing status of taxpayers registered under the GST. People had sales in January, February and March but nearly two-third of the taxpayers didn’t file their returns for that period. Yesterday, we decided to send the notices to them, and we’ll see what impact that will have.

What does the future of education in the next 6-8 months look like in Delhi?

I’m just praying that schools open soon. For now there’s no idea. If the situation comes under control and we can open schools by early or mid-September, there will be a particular strategy. If it takes another 2-3 months, there will have to be something else. So, nobody knows. It depends on the peak and the number of cases. I’m working on reviewing the situation with parents who have been giving inputs and feedback.

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