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HIGHLIGHTS OF BUDGET 2021

Shesh Narayan Singh

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budget 2021
Budget 2021

The 2021 budget emphasises growth and development, in an attempt to lift India out of a growth slump while also ensuring the government has resources available to combat the Coronavirus pandemic. Sitharaman introduced several changes to the taxation process, including the scrapping of income tax for senior citizens and removal of double taxation for NRIs, amongst other measures. While a new Agriculture, Infrastructure and Development Cess was announced on numerous items such as gold, silver, alcoholic beverages, palm oil, apples, petrol, and diesel, the final consumer price of the goods will remain unchanged. This is because the corresponding customs and excise duties on the same products have been reduced. Other important features of the budget include the setting up of seven mega textile farms and an increase in Foregin Direct Investment (FDI) from 49% to 74%.

The Finance Minister in her budget speech also announced that two public sector companies and one insurance company would be subjected to strategic divestment. In the sectors classified as strategic there will be a lesser number of Public Sector Enterprises (PSEs). The government has budgeted Rs. 1.75 Lakh crore via stake sale in PSEs and financial institutions. The divestment target for fiscal year 2021-22 has been revised from the previous year’s target of Rs.2.10 Lakh crore. Central Public Sector Enterprises (CPSEs) in all sectors apart from some in atomic energy, space and defence; transport and telecommunications; power, petroleum, coal and other minerals; and banking, insurance and financial services will be privatised. In 2021-22, Bharat Petroleum Corp Ltd, Air India, Shipping Corporation of India, Container Corporation of India, IDBI Bank, Bharat Earth Movers Ltd, and Pawan Hans will be privatised. Additionally, apart from IDBI there will be privatisation of two more Public Sector Banks (PSBs) and one General Insurance company. Such a move would require legislative amendments and it is expected that legislative amendments to execute the above and to launch the Initial Public Offering (IPO) of Life Insurance Corporation(LIC) would take place in the ongoing session of the Parliament. This current divestment strategy is aimed at creating an investment ecosystem for the private sector by minimising the presence of CPSEs.

As a relief to the startup ecosystem, the Finance Minister has announced that the Capital Gains exemption for investments would be exempted for one more year till 31st March, 2022. This comes at a time when most of the startups have been struggling to survive amidst the pandemic. This measure is aimed not only at incentivising the startups but also at encouraging the setting up of new ones.

As the border stand-off with China continues in Eastern Ladakh, the Finance Minister announced a roughly 19% increase in the capital budget for the forces in 2021-22. However, the overall defence budget only increased by 1.5% from Rs 4.71 lakh crore in 2020-21 to Rs 4.78 lakh crore in 2021-22. China’s official defence budget in comparison, stands at $179 billion, roughly three times that of India’s (around 1.15% of its GDP).

Furthermore, the Department of Space has been allocated Rs. 13,949 crore out of which Rs. 700 crore has been earmarked for the New Space India Limited (NSIL).

The NSIL is set to execute the PSLV-CS51 launch carrying Brazil’s Amazonia satellite along with other smaller Indian satellites.

Another important highlight from Monday’s announcement was that all states that have upcoming Assembly elections- Kerala, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Assam have received a massive infrastructure boost in the form of spending on highway road expansion. The construction of Madurai-Kollam corridor and Chittor-Thatchur corridor is set to begin in 2022.

About 675 km of highway work in West Bengal has been planned at a cost of Rs 25,000 crore including the upgrading of existing roads in Kolkata and Siliguri.

Apart from an infrastructure boost, the Finance Minister also announced a programme to promote seaweed farming in Tamil Nadu, and a special welfare scheme for tea workers in both Assam and West Bengal. The government also announced an allocation of Rs. 3,726 crores for the first digital census.

WILL BUDGET 2021 EASE THE FINANCIAL BURDEN OF COVID-19?

Despite the Finance Minister announcing that one of the six pillars of Atmanirbhar Bharat is health and wellness, the actual increase in money being allocated to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare is a modest 7 per cent. As the country is dealing with the financial ramifications of the Coronavirus pandemic, and access to healthcare is needed more than ever before, the provision for Ayushman Bharat Yojna or the Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana, remains unchanged at Rs 6,400 crore. However, the allocation for the Ministry of AYUSH (Ayurveda, Yoga & Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy) has been increased by 39%.

Additionally, Sitharam also announced the allocation of Rs. 35,000 crore for the COVID-19 vaccination programme, which would cover around 68.6 crore people (Rs. 255 per dose) in the financial year 2021-22. Under the pillar of Health and Wellness, the Finance Minister also announced a new centrally sponsored scheme- the Pradhan Mantri Atmanirbhar Swasth Bharat Yojana- to strengthen the healthcare system in the country. This will include the setting up of urban health and wellness centres, setting up integrated public health labs in all districts, among other measures. Roughly Rs. 64,180 crores has been allocated under the scheme for the upcoming six years (around Rs. 10,000 crore yearly), however, no timeline for when this money will be allocated has yet been shared.

WHAT DID BUDGET 2021 MISS?

Investments into the Information Technology (IT) sector received almost no attention in the budget. During the pandemic, despite the lay-offs, advancements in the IT sector has helped a fair section of people keep their jobs with the ‘Work From Home’ concept taking over. The IT sector is one of the biggest services export contributors in the country, however, no policies were announced to boost the future of companies in the IT sector.

The income tax structure remains unchanged this year which is bound to irk the salaried middle class of the country. The Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent salary cut has reduced the spending tendency especially of the salaried middle class. It was expected that the government would offer tax relief so as to increase spending . However, the tax structure remains unchanged. This can be attributed to the fact that the tax collections have drastically reduced in 2021-21 owing to the pandemic and a further cut might create an undesired increase in saving rather than spending.

Additionally, as thousands of farmers continue protesting across the country against the new agriculture laws announced by the central government, no major announcements were made to address the ongoing unrest. While Sitharaman announced an increase in agricultural credit target, no initiatives were announced to boost rural consumption. In fact, the budget estimate for expenditure on the rural jobs scheme was lowered from 1.1 trillion in 2021 to 730 billion in 2022.

BUDGET IN REWIND: MAIN HIGHLIGHTS OF THE 2020 BUDGET

Last year’s budget, highly anticipated by people as well as the economy, was struggling with weak economic growth, a slower tax collection and low business confidence. The budget focused on three major parts: Aspirational India, economic development and caring society. Some of the main relief policies and incentives appreciated by various sectors in the last budget were the complete tax exemption on income from all investments, the new education policy, rental sector and housing reforms, zero budget farming, pension for informal sector workers, new taxation policy and a capital boost for banks. Through the 2020 budget, the government aimed to ease investments and boost infrastructure growth in the country by announcing the creation of many more airports and highways.

Farmers and agricultural groups, however, expressed disappointment from the previous budget as there was no increase in the payouts to farmers under the PM Kisan scheme. Additionally, funds for the Food Corporation of India (FCI) which handles the Public Distribution System (PDS) and fertilizers subsidies were also slashed.

Many analysts and commentators were also disappointed that no specific relief measures were announced to generate jobs which had been a major economic concern in the country.

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UTTARAKHAND 2022 POLLS: WILL BJP BE ABLE TO RETAIN STATE DESPITE INFIGHTING?

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The Uttarakhand Assembly elections are scheduled to take place in February 2022, to elect 70 members to the state’s Assembly. Over the last few months, the internal politics of the state took national stage leading to the resignation of two Chief Ministers in one year. In March this year, Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat resigned after large-scale dissatisfaction against his government, after which Tirath Singh Rawat was sworn in as the new Chief Minister of the state. However, the troubles of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), did not stop there. Shortly after, in July 2021, Tirath Singh Rawat also tendered his resignation. Pushkar Singh Dhami then took up his post, as the youngest Chief Minister of the state.

Photograph by Wikimedia Commons

The BJP, which swept the elections in 2017, winning 57 out of the 70 seats with a vote share of 47%, faces an uphill task in the state against the Indian National Congress (INC), which won 11 seats in the last assembly elections with a vote share of 33.8%. The upcoming election is set to witness a three-cornered fight this time, with Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) also gearing up to try to win Uttarakhand. Historically, the state has had very strong anti-incumbency as it has turned up alternative governments every five years since the first election was held in 2002. While analysts and political pundits predict a similar trend in 2022, it is yet to be seen whether the BJP’s internal troubles will lead to losing the state or retaining power.

WHAT WILL HAPPEN IN 2022?

It is no surprise that the INC and AAP have both been using the instability within the BJP and the change in leadership a year before Assembly Elections as a weapon for the upcoming elections. In March this year, the ABP-CVoter opinion poll predicted a win for the Congress in the state. As per the poll, the BJP’s vote share in the state is expected to see a decline of 8.2% while, the Congress may gain 2.3% in their vote share. The AAP may make some inroads in the state. As per the poll, the Congress is likely to win 35 seats, the BJP 27 seats, and the BSP and AAP are likely to win three and five seats, respectively.

BHARATIYA JANATA PARTY (BJP)

The BJP’s massive win is often attributed to a very strong Modi-wave, as the party did not have a Chief Ministerial face during the elections. Apart from internal turmoil and instability, the party also faces the grave challenges of strong anti-incumbency due to lack of employment opportunities, lack of healthcare, and poor handling of the second wave of COVID-19. The BJP is facing allegations of corruption and controversy surrounding the Char Dham Devasthanam Management Bill. The declaration of Garsain as the summer capital of Uttarakhand and the decision to add new districts to this new administrative unit from both the Garhwal and Kumaon areas have been labelled controversial decisions. Furthermore, there are reports of internal dissatisfaction with the elevation of Pushkar Singh Dhami due to his relative inexperience and being chosen over other leaders. Keeping these points in mind, it is clear that the BJP will have a tough time retaining power in the state.

INDIAN NATIONAL CONGRESS (INC)

The INC, which was only able to win 11 seats during the last Assembly Elections, was able to retain its vote share of 33.8%. The party is banking on the widespread anti-incumbency in the state and the strong grassroots connection of party leader Harish Rawat to bolster a victory in the 2022 polls. However, winning might not be so simple for the INC as well. The new appointments of party national general secretary Harish Rawat as president of the 2022 election committee along with Rajya Sabha member Pradeep Tamta as vice president and former minister Dinesh Agrawal as the convenor have brought across rumours of discontent within the party. Additionally, the untimely death of party veteran Indira Hridyesh, the leader of opposition in the state assembly, could hurt the Congress electorally.

OTHERS: AAM AADMI PARTY (AAP) AND BAHUJAN SAMAJ PARTY (BSP)

The Aam Aadmi Party announced that it will be contesting all 70 seats inUttarakhand. The party has said it will bring the “Delhi model” to the state, along with the promise of quality education, healthcare, 300 units of free electricity, waiving off old electricity bills, free electricity for farmers, and 24×7 electricity. The party has projected Colonel (retd) Ajay Kothiyal, who has been hailed for his rescue and rehabilitation efforts in the aftermath of the 2013 Kedarnath tragedy, as its Chief Ministerial face. The AAP launched a membership drive in February 2021 to get ready for 2022 polls in the state. The BSP which had managed to secure three seats with a vote share of around 12.2% did not manage to win even a single assembly seat during the 2017 elections. However, it was able to secure a vote share of 7%. Earlier this year, BSP chief Mayawati announced that the party will contest all assembly seats in Uttarakhand on its own and would not forge a poll alliance with any party.

Photographs from uttarainformation.gov.in
Photographs from uttarainformation.gov.in
Kumbh 2021 Haridwar | Photograph by uttarakhandtourism.gov.in

Contributing reports by Damini Mehta, Junior Research Associate at Polstrat and Abhinay Chandna, Damayanti Niyogi and Niyanta Desai,Interns at Polstrat.

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PARLIAMENT MONSOON SESSION 2021: EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW

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The Monsoon Session of Parliament started on 19 July 2021, and will likely run for 19 business days until 13 August 2021. Over 400 Members of Parliament (MPs) and 200 staff have received the Covid-19 vaccinations before the start of the session. Covid-19 protocols, including maintaining social distancing are also in place, even as members of both houses have been sitting simultaneously for the sessions.

During the 19 days, as per the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs, 31 government business items will be taken up, including 29 bills (in various stages) and two financial items. 26 bills have been tabled (including both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha), out of which nine are listed for consideration and passing, and 17 are listed for introduction, consideration, and passing. The first few days of the Monsoon Session have witnessed some turbulence, with parties protesting against the fuel price hikes, the government’s handling of the second wave of COVID-19, and the farm laws. The House has been adjourned several times in the past few days due to loud protests by opposition party members against various bills and ordinances. Union minister Bharati Pravin Pawar’s response to a written question, stating that no deaths due to lack of oxygen were specifically reported by states and Union Territories during the second wave, attracted widespread criticism and opposition. Key bills such as the Essential Defence Services Bill 2021, Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens (Amendment) Bill 2019, and The Commission for Air Quality Management in National Capital Region and Adjoining Areas Bill, 2021 have attracted protests from various stakeholder groups across the country.

HOW IS A BILL PASSED IN PARLIAMENT?

The Rajya Sabha currently has 245 members, out of which 12 have been nominated directly by the President. Out of these 237 seats, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) has 115 seats. The Lok Sabha has 545 members, out of which the NDA has 382 seats – 301 of these are the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP). Any Constitution Amendment Bill must be passed by both Houses of Parliament and would require a simple majority of the total membership of that House, and a two-thirds majority of all members present and voting. Money and Financial Bills can only be introduced in the Lok Sabha by the recommendation of the President. Money Bills must be passed first in the Lok Sabha by a simple majority, following which it is sent to the Rajya Sabha for recommendations, which can be rejected by the Lok Sabha. Financial Bills must be passed by both Houses of Parliament. Ordinary Bills, on the other hand, can be introduced in either House and must be passed by both Houses by a simple majority of all members present and voting.

A CLOSER LOOK: WHAT DO THE BILLS ENTAIL?ESSENTIAL DEFENCE SERVICES BILL, 2021THE TRAFFICKING OF PERSONS (PREVENTION, PROTECTION AND REHABILITATION) BILL, 2021

The Essential Defence Services Bill aims to provide for the maintenance of essential defence services for the country’s security and will replace the Essential Defence Services Ordinance. The Ordinance empowers the government to prohibit strikes, lockouts, and layoffs in units that are involved in providing essential defence services. The bill will grant power to the government to act in the case of a strike against the corporatisation of ordnance factories. It also enables them to take disciplinary action, including penalties and dismissal, for participating in such strikes. The legislation will affect around 80,000 workers employed across Indian ordnance factories and other establishments.

Various trade union and employees groups such as the All India Defence Employees’ Federation (AIDEF) of Left unions; Bhartiya Pratiraksha Mazdoor Sangh (BPMS), an arm of RSS-affiliate Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh; and Indian National Defence Workers’ Federation (INDWF) of the Indian National Trade Union Congress have registered strong opposition to the legislation. The federations have also declared an indefinite strike from 26 July despite the assurances by the government to take care of the employees’ conditions of service.

The main aim of the bill is to “prevent and counter trafficking in persons, especially women and children, and to provide for the care, protection, and rehabilitation to the victims while respecting their rights” while also “creating a supportive legal, economic and social environment for them.” The main features of the legislation include that it expands the definition of the “victim” to include transgenders, widens the range of offenders who can be charged under the law to include public servants and armed forces personnel, and calls for the setting up of a National Anti-Trafficking Committee. Penalties and imprisonment under the law have also been made more severe, especially for “aggravated offences”. However, the bill has attracted objections from lawyers, human rights activists, and civil society members.

Legal experts say that the bill criminalizes sex work and does not provide exit or rehabilitation options for people who are in the profession voluntarily. Additionally, they point out that trafficking and sex work have been made to overlap in the bill, which means that prostitution and pornography have been added in the definition of sexual exploitation. Legal experts have pointed out that making the consent of the victim irrelevant in the bill will put voluntary sex workers in prison. The bill was also only put online for public comments for two weeks (in English only), leading to criticism about it not being accessible to those it affects the most.

ELECTRICITY (AMENDMENT) BILL, 2021

The Electricity (Amendment) Bill,2021 seeks to amend the existing Electricity Act, 2003 and will set the framework for devising and enforcing rules for electricity by regulatory authorities in the power sector. Under the bill, power distribution will be de-licensed to increase competition and will be privatized to allow consumers to choose from multiple service providers. The bill has attracted widespread opposition from stakeholder groups, including trade unions and political parties.

Photograph by Wikimedia CommonsPhotograph by Wikimedia Commons

The All India Power Engineers Federation (AIPEF) has stated that major key stakeholders are being ignored in the process of finalizing the bill, and the privatisation of power distribution will lead to bankruptcy amongst major state DISCOMs. They also mention that the decision to de-license power distribution will not ensure an efficient and cost-effective electricity supply. Members of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and Sanyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM) also opposed the introduction of the Bill, stating that it will take away the rights of state governments.

INDIAN MARINE FISHERIES BILL, 2021

The Indian Marine Fisheries Bill, 2021 proposes to grant licenses to vessels registered under the Merchant Shipping Act, 1958, to fish in the exclusive economic zone (EEZ). It also puts the Indian Coast Guard (ICG) in charge of Monitoring Control and Surveillance (MCS), and proposes punishments for fishermen breaching the EEZ without a licence, for not complying with ICG orders, and for obstructing ICG officials. The bill has attracted criticism from political parties and fishermen’s groups. Earlier this month Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.K. Stalin wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi against the bill and said that it went against the interests of the local fishermen and certain clauses infringed upon the rights of the states. Fishermen’s groups have said that the bill does not take into account the traditional rights of fishermen, and the fines prescribed for fishermen with non-motorised traditional crafts are hefty. The groups have also touched upon the fact that the bill was introduced without consultation with stakeholder groups and the public. Fishermen’s groups have been holding black flag protests across the country against the bill being introduced in the Parliament.

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GOA ASSEMBLY ELECTIONS 2022: ROAD AHEAD

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The Goa Assembly elections are slated to be held in February 2022. The Indian National Congress (INC) emerged as the party with the highest number of seats in the 2017 elections. However, due to a post-poll alliance, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) secured the Assembly with then Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, who was sworn in as the Chief Minister for the fourth time in the state. In the two years following the elections, a wave of defections and a few deaths of major leaders were instances that affected change. The BJP is currently the party with the highest number of seats (27), while the INC has only five MLAs in the 40-member house.

THE AFTERMATH OF THE 2017 ASSEMBLY POLLSPhotograph by joegoauk72Photograph by joegoauk72

In the 2017 Assembly elections, the Congress won 17 seats with a vote share of 32.9 per cent, while the BJP won 13 seats with a vote share of 28.7 per cent. Other parties won 10 seats, with the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP) and Goa Forward Party (GFP) winning three seats each and independent candidates winning three seats. The Nationalist Congress Party got one seat. After the elections, the GFP and MGP, along with some independent candidates. joined hands with the BJP in a post-poll alliance. The NDA secured a majority.

The defections started soon after the elections, when a key INC MLA, Vishwajit Rane, son of Pratap Rane, MLA and former Goa Chief Minister, switched his allegiance to the BJP. As a result, the BJP’s strength in the house rose to 14. By October 2017, two more INC MLAs had announced their allegiance to the BJP. However, in 2019, following the death of Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar and MLA Francis D’Souza, the BJP’s seat share came down to 12. Thereafter, Pramod Sawant was sworn in as the Chief Minister with the NDA coalition in majority with 21 seats.

After Sawant was installed as Chief Minister, two MLAs from the MGP joined the BJP, bringing the party’s seat share to 14. In March 2019, due to defections and the passing of some MLAs, by-polls were conducted in four constituencies. The BJP won three seats. Political analysts state that these by-polls reflected that voters in Goa elected candidates independent of the banner of the party they were contesting under. The only seat the BJP lost was Parrikar’s former seat, which was won by INC candidate Atanasio “Babush” Monserrate. After the by-polls, the BJP’s seat share (as a single party) was up to 17 seats.

A dramatic shift in party allegiance happened in July 2019, when a group of 10 INC MLAs in Goa, led by the leader of opposition in the assembly, Chandrakant Kavlekar, shifted their support to the BJP. This increased the strength of the BJP to a whopping 27 seats out of 40 (from 13 seats, when the elections were conducted in 2017). With this major wave of defections, the strength of the INC, which had emerged as the single-largest party after the 2017 Assembly elections, was reduced to five MLAs.

WHAT’S PREDICTED FOR 2022?

Photographs from Wikimedia Commons

The BJP currently has 27 MLAs in the Assembly. However, the road to winning the 2022 elections is going to be difficult for the BJP,The second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic devastated the state, with a record-high number of deaths. People have protested against the government’s handling of the crisis, and noted the lack of financial and economic support to help them navigate the devastating impact on their livelihood.

Goa has also experienced a wave of growing protests against major development works planned in the state, including the decision to build IIT Goa in the eco-sensitive forested village of Melauli. Tribal groups have been fighting for their rights in the state – that such construction projects not only cut straight into their livelihoods but also spark atrocities against tribal and Adivasi rights. Additionally, intra-party tensions, including the escalating rifts between the Chief Minister and Health Minister over policy decisions are likely to impact the party’s success in the upcoming elections.

In April 2022, the GFP announced that it had quit the NDA. The party stated that the BJP has been introducing “anti-Goan”policies that affect the locals. Following this, last month, after a state executive committee, the BJP announced that it will be contesting the 2022 Assembly polls independently in Goa, “but options are open.”

The INC was left with merely five MLAs by 2019. Congress’ Goa in-charge Dinesh Gundu Rao made a trip to the state in June 2021, with the aim of strengthening the organization of the party and preparing for the upcoming polls. Congress President Girish Chodankar stated that the INC will contest the upcoming elections with new faces, while keeping alliance options open. It is to be noted that the National Congress Party (NCP) national general secretary Praful Patel has ruled out creating an alliance with the Congress for the polls.

Another party that has promised to contest all 40 seats in Goa is the AAP. While the party received a lot of attention from the youth and media, it failed to have any impact on the voting patterns of the state. Last week, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal announced the AAP’s promises for Goa for the upcoming elections, including free electricity of up to 300 units per month. The party has launched its “Let’s Clean Goa’s Politics” campaign for the 2022 election, promising to replicate the “Delhi model” of clean politics in Goa. Kejriwal has also promised uninterrupted power supply in the state, as well as with free electricity for farmers.

Other parties such as the MGP and GFP, which were in the NDA, have ruled out any possibility of a pre-poll alliance with the BJP for the polls. Both parties have announced that they are open to a pre-poll alliance with opposition parties in the state.

While other parties are trying to woo the Goan voter base with promises of free electricity and preserving the “Goan identity”, the organizational strength that the BJP hasand the support it receives in the state are strong. With important issues, including the development projects and the handling of the COVID-19 situation, leading to dissatisfaction among the people, it is yet to be seen what impact this will have on the election results.

Contributing reports by Damini Mehta, Junior Research Associate at Polstrat and Ajitabh Singh, Interns at Polstrat.

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BREAKING DOWN THE DELHI MASTER PLAN 2041

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Earlier this month, the Delhi Development Authority along with the National Institute of Urban Affairs opened up a draft of the Delhi Master Plan (MPD) 2041 for public feedback until 24 July. The Delhi Master Plan 2041, the fourth of its kind since the first effort covering 1961-81, aims to introduce policies that will help provide a “strategic and enabling framework that can nurture the future growth of the city,” according to the planning agency. The National Capital of Delhi is one of the most populous cities in the world and accounts for 1.39 per cent of India’s population. According to a 2018 report by the Population Division of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, the population of Delhi and its immediate neighbourhood was estimated to be 2.9 crores in 2018 and is expected to touch 3.72 crores by 2028. The urban conglomerate is home to a large number of urban and migrant workers and supports a major economic structure.

The city’s heritage needs to be accounted for while considering any development plans(Photograph by Creative Commons)

Being home to such a huge population, the city is riddled with a unique set of challenges, which often make newspaper headlines. From unbreathable air to skyrocketing property prices and rents, and from clogged roads to issues of water supply, Delhi faces it all. The master plan of any city is essentially a vision document by the urban planners and land-owning agencies, which provides a vision for future development while keeping in mind the limitations and challenges currently faced by the city. MPD 2041 is a framework that builds upon the lessons learnt from the implementation of the previous three plans. The plan includes sector-wise policies in the areas of environment, economy, public spaces, heritage, shelter, mobility, and social and physical infrastructure. While the 22 chapters of the MPD aim to address a range of issues that riddle the city, the plan definitely leaves behind some marginalized groups, and the issues of inadequate monitoring, implementation, and funding will pose challenges when the plan is implemented on the ground.

ACCOUNTABILITY, FUNDING AND TRANSPARENCY: MAIN CHALLENGES OF IMPLEMENTATION

Many urban planners and environmental experts state that while on paper the MPD or any other plan for the future of the city could be very comprehensive, the real challenges emerge when the plan is implemented on the ground.

In fact, a report in the Hindustan Times highlighted that many provisions of the MPD 2021 were in fact never implemented. Provisions such as the regularization of unauthorized colonies, preparation of ward-level local area plans, a redevelopment plan for special areas, development of integrated freight complexes (IFCs), and shifting of wholesale markets from city’s centre to these IFCs, redevelopment of old planned areas, which were all included in the MPD 2021, were left out. Additionally, a survey of the 2021 MPD revealed that while 80-90 per cent of the plan was implemented in the New Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC) area, only 50 per cent of the same was implemented in other parts of Delhi and even lesser in areas beyond the Yamuna river. The NDMC area mainly covers Lutyens’ Delhi and the areas surrounding it, a small 42.7 square kilometres of the total area of 1,484 square kilometres comprising Delhi.

Every expanding city needs a well connected and affordable Rapid Transit System. Delhi Metro’s increasing ridership is an example of this.(Photograph by Creative Commons)

Many provisions of the past MPD’s have never seen the light of day due to inadequate funding available for implementation and the city’s unique governance structure which poses institutional challenges in implementing any policy changes. In the past, implementation of the MPD provisions has been characterized by delays, due to overlapping jurisdictions of various civic bodies and a lack of communication and coordination between different government departments responsible for its implementation.

Another major challenge to the plan is the population growth of Delhi, which several experts have highlighted are on the conservative side. Experts state that conventional methods used in estimated population projections yield unrealistic and lower figures of population growth, and the provisions will not be able to match the growth in Delhi’s population.

The MPD highlights that having a greener environment with protection norms and enhanced mobility by promoting the use of cleaner fuels is one of its key areas of focus. As a part of the environmental focus, the draft plan aims to reduce vehicular pollution through including the adoption of mix-use transit-oriented development (TOD), migration to greener fuels for public transport, and water quality improvement to be taken for river Yamuna and various natural drains, lakes and baolis. The plan also states that a clear boundary will be established in a buffer zone near the Yamuna (300-metre wide) and be maintained along the entire edge of the Yamuna river. Concerns have been raised over the preservation of the South Delhi Aravali ridge, the rejuvenation of the Yamuna River and the development plans for green areas.

WHO DOES THE MPD LEAVE BEHIND?

Various lobby groups, NGOs and planning experts have highlighted that while the MPD 2041 (as well as previous MPDs) make provisions for the welfare of poor and marginalized communities, these provisions become the last priority and are not carried out during implementation. A collective of women’s groups, housing groups and urban planning experts called Main Bhi Dilli, who aim to make the planning process more inclusive, have highlighted that the plan may not do enough for marginalized groups and informal sector workers which comprise a huge percentage of the population of the city.

Sprawling slums and its inhabitants fulfill the city’s needs in terms of low cost labour, but the city fails to provide for them. (Photograph by Creative Commons)

Many have mentioned that the plan being available online only and in Hindi and English for a city where a huge percentage of the population is technologically illiterate does not create a conducive environment for feedback. Responses and suggestions to the plan, while open to all in the public domain, can only be submitted online, which makes it inaccessible to a large number of people, especially those in marginalized groups.

Some experts have also highlighted that the plan does not have sufficient provisions to address the issues of fair land use, including ensuring affordable housing. Many have also added that the plan fails to address the problems faced by villages, which were urbanized in the 1970s and 1980s, without basic infrastructural facilities. Additionally, the provisions to reform the Yamuna also pose the risk of completely excluding poor farmers and fishermen who not only help sustain the river but also earn their livelihood from it. Delhi’s differently-abled population, which was not a focus in the MPD 2021 has been left behind in the MPD 2041. Additionally, there have been no provisions in the MPD 2041 to provide dedicated spaces for the LGBTQ community.

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DELHI MASTER PLAN 2041: FUTURE ROADMAP CHALLENGES

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Urban planning and development are vital for the future of a city’s growing population. Unless the city’s development stays ahead of this process, it can result in great difficulties managing the ever-increasing demand for resources and infrastructure in the long run. As we’ve seen in metropolitan cities in the country such as Bengaluru, inadequate long-term planning coupled with a boom in population over a few decades has resulted in a strain on the city’s resources.

Delhi has its own set of problems, from toxic air quality to water shortages. A clear plan must be developed. With the 2041 focus on environment and economic sustainability, we can only hope to work towards a better-planned city – outcomes of past Master Plans tell us that it may be easier said than done. It may perhaps be more sustainable to further develop areas beyond the major central regions of the city, including outside the city. In the long run, there is a need to expand the geographical area of the city while continuing to develop sustainable policy solutions as a response to these issues. It is also vital to bring neighbouring states into this conversation as Gurgaon and Noida, which are part of the NCR region, are also burdened by similar problems and it would be wise to work with them to tackle these. An inadequate and poorly arranged plan along with ineffective implementation will continue to make things worse as resources keep becoming scarce and the population of the city continues to grow.

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Statistically Speaking

WHAT DOES THE CONGRESS INFIGHTING IN PUNJAB MEAN FOR STATE ELECTIONS?

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The infighting in the Indian National Congress (INC) in Punjab has made news over the last few months. The news took precedence in April after the Punjab and Haryana High Courts quashed the Special Investigation Team’s (SIT) report on the sensitive Behbal Kalan and Kot Kapura firing cases. The judgement sparked tension between a few Congress leaders, who have been critical of Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh in the past. While the SIT probe may have been the match that lit the fire, signs of brewing discontent amongst the senior members of the party and the Captain have been there since his victory in the state polls in 2017. Out of the seven states going to polls in 2022, Punjab is the only state where the Congress is in power. Along with dealing with a shrinking voter base, with control of only three states in India, winning Punjab back is critical for the survival of the INC. The question that now arises is what effect the growing dissatisfaction will have on the Congress’ strategy in the upcoming elections and whether or not the Captain will be able to quash the dissent and secure another victory in the state.

THE MATCH THAT LIT THE FIRE

The feud between senior Congress legislators and the Captain came to light after the government lost the Behbal Kalan and Kot Kapura firing cases in the High Court in April this year. In 2015, a number of instances of desecration of the Guru Granth Sahib took place at Bargari in Faridkot district. Thousands of people came out in protest, demanding action against those behind the incident. During one such demonstration in Kotkapura, the police fired upon unarmed protestors, killing two people. An onslaught of allegations appeared, including that top police officials and then Deputy CM Sukhbir Singh Badal gave directions for the firing. This caused the popularity of the Badal government to sink to an all-time low, and the Congress promised action against those responsible for the incident as one of the key promises during their 2017 election campaign.

The rejection of the SIT report intensified the criticism against the Captain’s government, with many leaders, including Navjot Singh Sidhu, saying that this was due to the “incompetence” of the Captain. Punjab Provincial Congress Committee president Sunil Jakhar and Cabinet Minister Sukhjinder Randhawa even offered to resign at a Cabinet meeting over the issue.

LONG-TERM RESENTMENT BREWING AGAINST AMARINDER SINGHETT and TET teachers Protest Punjab
(Photograph from Twitter)

In 2017, the INC was able to sweep the assembly elections, securing a solid 77 seats in the 117 member legislature and a vote share of 38.64 per cent. The SAD-BJP alliance, which was struggling in the aftermath of the 2015 cases and subsequent firing incidents, only managed to secure 18 seats. The AAP won 20 seats, which however, were limited to urban seats and the party could not make inroads into the rural base. Captain Amarinder Singh proved his worth once again during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, winning eight of the 13 seats, with a vote share of 40.12 per cent. The BJP and SAD managed to secure only two seats each, while the AAP won one seat.

Resentment started brewing inside the Congress shortly after its victory, when the government fulfilled its promise of extending farm debt waivers worth INR 5,000 crore to farmers. From the first year of the government, party members began complaining that bureaucrats were running the government while the political leaders were being ignored. Many complained that the debt waiver benefit was being transferred without any credit to politicians. Time and time again, the Captain has also been accused of being inaccessible by others in the party. The report of a Special Task Force (STF) on drugs, soft stance on sand mafia, and not cancelling the controversial Power Purchase Agreements (PPA) have also all been points of resentment among party members.

Another major point that led to anger within the party was reports of the Captain keeping dossiers on over two dozen INC MLAs. These alleged dossiers detail the involvement of party contemporaries in the sand mining business, liquor trade, transport business, and land-grab cases. During a Vidhan Sabha session, the Captain indicated that he had reports on all his party legislators, however, he has now denied having prepared any dossiers recently.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR THE CONGRESS IN 2022?Navjot Singh Sidhu with CM Captain Amarinder Singh at his farmhouse in March 2021 (Photograph from Twitter)

After the infighting became public, Congress Chief Sonia Gandhi constituted a committee headed by Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge along with Delhi MP JP Agarwal and Congress general secretary in-charge of Punjab, Harish Rawat. The committee, after listening to about 150 leaders including ministers, MLAs, MPs, leaders of frontal organisations, and others, submitted a report to Sonia Gandhi. The Chief Minister, Captain Amarinder Singh, also appeared before the committee.

As per media reports, the report of the Committee has recommended that Navjot Singh Sidhu be given a role and the party structure be reorganized. Sources also added that the majority of the MLAs continue to support the Captain, even though some of them are unhappy with him. The committee has recommended that more Dalit leaders should be given representation within the party. The Congress has yet to take any action on the report and its recommendations.

While the crisis seems to have simmered down, with party rebels stating that they are waiting for Sonia Gandhi to take action, the problems for the Congress in Punjab leading up to the assembly elections are far from over. While internal dissent has emerged, the party is also facing external dissent from teachers, healthcare workers, safai karamcharis, government employees, farmers groups amongst others. While it is possible that the Congress will not change guard in the state, it is likely that the Captain will need to share power with his detractors. The party faces a tough challenge as it continues to contemplate who the Deputy Chief Minister and state Congress chief could be, while maintaining caste and communal representation balance, which could affect the outcome of the elections.

Contributing reports by Damini Mehta, Junior Research Associate at Polstrat and Abhinay Chandna, Shivangana Chaturvedi, Interns at Polstrat.

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