Nitya enjoys meditating in the happiness class, and is also a member of the Punjabi and Eco clubs at her school. (Express photo by Abhinav Saha)
Greater Kailash-II and Govindpuri Extension. In terms of social composition, infrastructure, and facilities, the two South Delhi neighbourhoods are worlds apart. Yet, on a Friday morning, at a mohalla clinic in
C R Park, part of the Greater Kailash Assembly constituency, the two worlds seemed to come together as people from the upscale GK-II queued up with patients from Govindpuri for an appointment with Dr Soma Mitra, the medical officer in-charge. They returned only after Dr Mitra had examined them and after they had collected the prescribed medicines, free of cost.
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While the mohalla clinics, a crucial policy intervention of the Aam Aadmi Party government, is often credited with powering the party to its second straight full-majority win, over the last five years, many such welfare schemes of the Arvind Kejriwal government, in the areas of water, power, education, health and transport, have touched the lives of people in the Capital — what Kejriwal, in his victory speech from the terrace of the party office on February 11, packaged as the “politics of work”.
The Lokniti-CSDS election-eve survey, available exclusively to The Indian Express, also captured the trend, with data showing that the voting choices of the well-off, as well as the disadvantaged groups, were determined by the schemes, helping AAP transcend the class divide in a city known for its high levels of inequality.
AAP’s major poll promises of 2015 — reducing power and water tariffs by half — were fulfilled within three weeks of the party forming the government. The subsidy-driven model helped the AAP consolidate its base among the lower income groups, a segment that had propelled the Congress to power three times between1998 and 2009.
However, by May 2019, the sheen had worn off the AAP government. The party reeled under a series of poll reverses, particularly when it lost all seven Lok Sabha seats to the BJP, and Kejriwal’s ability as an administrator began to come into question.
The subsidy-driven model helped AAP consolidate its base among the lower income groups, a segment that was earlier with the Congress. (File Photo)
“The Supreme Court verdict of July 2018 (when the court said the L-G has no ‘independent decision-making power’ and must act on the aid and advice of the elected government) did help but the severe drubbing in the Lok Sabha elections lowered the morale of the party rank and file. This is where a conscious decision was taken to bring back the focus on Kejriwal the CM. He had at one point donned the mantle of the country’s principal opposition leader, thus alienating his voter base,” said an AAP leader, requesting anonymity.
In June, Prashant Kishor’s Indian Political Action Committee (I-PAC) joined hands with AAP, along with a number of professionals who had in the past volunteered for the party.
“Armed with the SC verdict that sealed the primacy of the elected government over the L-G, the government announced a series of schemes, including the free power scheme for those consuming up to 200 units and free bus rides for women. The full statehood campaign had, after all, come a cropper in the Lok Sabha polls. The entire official machinery was activated to expedite the installation of CCTVs, WiFi, establishing more mohalla clinics, bringing buses,” a senior bureaucrat said.
The announcements also helped AAP dominate the public discourse. Indeed, the free public transport scheme for women — which the AAP proposed would cover both bus and Metro rides — became the talk of the town, involving both the common masses and the policy wonks.
For Kejriwal, it was a transformative policy intervention to boost the level of women’s participation in the labour force, languishing at 11 per cent in the city. The presence of more women in public spaces would also make the city safer, he said, an argument that seems to have been met with approval in the recently concluded polls, as the Lokniti-CSDS data suggests. According to the poll-eve survey, women were 11 percentage points more likely to have voted for AAP in this Assembly election than men — 60% to 49%.
The flurry of announcements in the last lap quite naturally drew criticism from the Opposition parties. Leader of Opposition and Rohini legislator Vijender Gupta, among the eight BJP MLAs to have bucked the AAP wave, said, “Kejriwal spent the first four years complaining how the Centre was not letting him work. And now he talks about the politics of work. Do you see a contradiction there?”
Unfazed by the criticism, AAP tactfully wove a work-oriented campaign for the Assembly polls and launched a public outreach programme, as part of which the party came out with a pamphlet titled ‘Report Card’.
Kejriwal at the launch of AAP government's report card in December. (Express Photo)
“It was designed like a school report card. With Kejriwal, a perception had gained traction that this person boasts more than he actually works. So it was necessary to distil the facts from the noise and package it in a way that actually connects with people,” said a senior AAP leader.
Over 40 lakh copies of the pamphlet, listing 10 major accomplishments of the AAP government — in the areas of education, health, water, power, transport, and development work in unauthorised colonies — were distributed across the Capital through an extensive door-to-door campaign, with the slogan “acche beete paanch saal, lage raho Kejriwal.”
“The phrase lage raho encapsulated AAP’s capability and intent. It essentially conveyed that the party has done so much, while also acknowledging that a lot more needs to be done. It betrays the belief that the AAP has will and the conviction to succeed,” said a senior I-PAC functionary.
My school is the best in Delhi. We have the best teachers... I don’t want to leave this place ever,” beams Nitya Singh, 14, standing in one of the corridors of Sarvodaya Co-Ed Senior Secondary School in South Delhi’s Moti Bagh. The walls behind her are decorated with art work by students.
Four years ago, however, when the Class 9 student first walked into her new school, it was a different story. “We studied under tin sheds. The walls were damp and we were always cold... There were hardly any extra-curricular activities. We had three-four sets of carrom boards, that’s all. We didn’t have a playground either, and there was a gutter nearby. Now we have two grounds and even badminton courts,” she says, now moving towards the school playground with her classmates.
The school is among the 1,030 Delhi government-run schools in the national Capital that have benefited from the Aam Aadmi Party’s sustained focus on education over the last five years. With the government allocating nearly 25 per cent of its budget for education, schools such as Nitya’s have undergone a drastic makeover with clean toilets and ceiling fans, libraries, gyms and even swimming pools. Besides mending the infrastructure, the government reached out to parents through radio ads, encouraging them to attend parent-teacher meetings, invested in teachers’ training, even sent some abroad, and introduced concepts such as mentor teachers and the ‘happiness curriculum’.
Nearly 1,030 Delhi government-run schools in the national Capital have benefited from the Aam Aadmi Party’s sustained focus on education over the last five years. (Express photo by Abhinav Saha)
In the run-up to one of the most bitterly contested elections in the Capital, these achievements in the education sector were central to the party’s campaign strategy and appeal, even as it stayed clear of contentious national issues such as the Citizenship (Amendment) Act.
Of all the things Nitya “hated” about her school earlier, before it was renovated, “bad washrooms” tops the list. “We would prefer to use public toilets to the school’s stinking washroom,” says Singh, dressed in her blue salwar-kurta uniform and with her two long plaits held in place by blue ribbons.
Teachers at the school, who didn’t want to be named, say that earlier, students would skip school and even the staff “felt discouraged because of the environment.”
As the renovation work, which started four years ago, went on for nearly a year, “we had to adjust for some time”, says Nitya, whose family moved to the Capital from Uttar Pradesh’s Bahraich five years ago. They now live near Palam Village in Southwest Delhi.
“After the summer break, when I walked into the new school building, it looked prettier than a shopping mall. There were no broken benches, we had audio-visual rooms and even a multi-purpose hall. We didn’t have to sit under the sun to attend school functions,” says the eldest of three siblings. While her sister studies in the same school in Class 7, her brother attends a private school.
Nitya’s teachers are happy about the smart-boards they have been using to teach students. “The students now feel happy about coming to school... Even Nitya has become more confident since she joined. She enjoys playing badminton,” says a teacher.
Spread over nearly three acres, the school now has 68 classrooms and 61 teachers for 884 students.
Over the last few years, Singh’s father, Dinesh Kumar, a fire security personnel at a bank, has also begun to take interest in his daughter’s education. “Earlier, we didn’t think about it much, there was no feedback, no PTMs. Now it has all changed. Now the teachers are also good to us,” he says over the phone.
Apart from the basketball courts and the labs, Nitya and her classmates are excited about “new subjects” such as Urdu, the happiness curriculum, and the Entrepreneurship Mindset Curriculum. “I like to meditate in the happiness classes... My friends and I have fun with teachers. We no longer get tired or sleepy in the class,” she says.
While the AAP has been credited for fixing Delhi’s broken public school system, the Opposition has often hit back.
The free bus rides for women seems to have been met with overwhelming approval in the just concluded polls, as the Lokniti-CSDS data suggests. According to the poll-eve survey, women were 11 percentage points more likely to have voted for AAP in this Assembly election than men — 60% to 49%
Recently, amidst the heated poll campaign, the BJP released photos and videos, ostensibly of the poor conditions at some Delhi government schools. Both Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and Education Minister Sisodia rebutted the BJP’s charge, saying the videos were of non-functional schools.
Back in Moti Bagh, Nitya now wishes her school had buses to drop students home, but adds promptly that she is making the most of the facilities now available to her. “I am a part of the Punjabi and Eco-club (the school also has an Urdu club and Sanskrit club), and now we are also taught about cleanliness. We collect waste leaves, plastic and other garbage around the campus. I have also planted a sapling in the ground near the school,” she says.
As she prepares to return home, sporting a ‘Happy Badge’ that she got at the Magic Maths class “for asking some trick questions”, the 14-year-old reveals her future plans: “I want to become an IAS officer and make my parents proud.”
Sitting on a wooden bench at the Peeragarhi mohalla clinic with her pregnant daughter, Geeta Bedi, 46, says, “My daughter’s baby is due on February 22. The delivery will be done in the big sarkari hospital, but until then, we will keep coming to this doctor. We are here to show the doctor the ultrasound report.”
The mohalla clinic, located at the entrance of the Peeragarhi refugee colony in West Delhi, is the first of 450 such clinics that have been inaugurated since 2015, when the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) first came to power with a full majority in the national Capital. While it initially worked out of a portacabin, like a lot of other mohalla clinics in the city, the clinic is now a one-room set-up that offers free check-ups and drugs, besides diagnostic tests.
The CM gets his blood pressure checked at a newly inaugurated mohalla clinic in Wazirabad, last year. (Express photo: Praveen Khanna)
The clinic, which runs from 8 am to 2 pm, has a doctor, a technician for uploading patients’ Aadhaar card details and a lab assistant for collecting blood samples and disbursing medicines.
It will be a while before Geeta’s daughter Shikha, 26, gets her turn with the doctor — there are about 10 other patients ahead of them, and many more streaming in — but the mother-daughter say they are willing to wait. “My daughter doesn’t trust any other doctor, government or private, for her check-ups. Even after her delivery, she will stay with me for 45 days so that it’s easier for her to visit this clinic,” says Geeta, who owns a small shop selling electrical items and whose husband runs a snacks store. “I can’t recall the last time I went to any other doctor... This clinic has changed our lives,” she adds.
In 2015, soon after the Aam Aadmi Party first came to power with a full majority, it got down to working on mohalla clinics, announcing 1,000 of them. The idea of free mohalla or community clinics in a city where healthcare was either prohibitively expensive or deeply neglected, though simple, was a radical one.
These neighbourhood clinics were to provide check-ups and any of the drugs listed ‘essential’ by the Delhi government, besides diagnostic tests done from empanelled laboratories — all done free of cost.
But like with a lot of the early AAP schemes, this one too ran into rough weather, with the AAP accusing the Centre-run Delhi Development Authority of not parting with land for the clinics, and the latter saying the land identified by the state government isn’t suited for a clinic. But in January, with a month left for the Assembly elections, the government inaugurated 152 clinics, flagging the programme as one of its key achievements.
Days left for her delivery, Shikha says she visits the mohalla clinic for her check ups. “I don’t trust any other doctor,” she says. (Express photo by Abhinav Saha)
The mohalla clinics have also caught the interest of other states, with some such as Jharkhand, Telangana, Karnataka and Jammu & Kashmir said to be keen to follow the model. Recently, while inaugurating a clinic, Kejriwal said Delhi would have a mohalla clinic every 2 km.
The Opposition BJP and the Congress, however, cried foul, accusing the government of setting up the clinics with an eye on elections, and blaming AAP for not implementing the Centre’s Ayushman Bharat programme. With days to go for the elections, the BJP released a ‘sting’ video to show how many of these clinics “lack even basic facilities”.
But as the results of the recent elections showed, when people said they voted for Kejriwal’s “kaam”, or the development work initiated by his government, the mohalla clinics got prime billing.
Before this clinic came up in 2015, says Geeta, the family would either go to a dispensary 5 km from their house or to “Bangali doctor”, the local quack. “But this is easier — and free. Now I go for everything from fever to bodyache. I know everyone at the clinic,” she says.
It’s now Shikha’s turn and Dr Alka Chaudhary, 48, the medical officer in charge of this clinic, enquires about the 26-year-old’s health and asks if she is eating well. “All good,” the doctor says as she looks at Shikha’s ultrasound report, before proceeding to check her blood pressure and examining her. “The delivery can happen any time now,” says Dr Chaudhary, giving Shikha instructions.
Dr Chaudhary, 48, who earlier worked with government hospitals such as Safdargunj and Guru Gobind Singh Hospital, joined the clinic in 2015. At the mohalla clinic, which gets about 40 patients on an average every day, she gets paid Rs 40 for every patient she sees.
Tomorrow, Sunday, February 16, Chaudhary won’t see patients at the clinic. For one, the clinics are shut on Sundays, and then, she has to be at Ramlila Ground for the swearing-in of the new AAP government — she is among 50 “special guests” from different sectors who have got an invitation.
Electricity and Water
Around 20 years ago, we used to steal electricity. By cutting the lines,” laughs Meena Kumari, 58. That now seems like a long time ago, she says. Her four children — three sons and a daughter — were then still studying and she ran the family on the money her husband, a cycle-shop owner, brought home. Over the years, the family added a floor to the single-storeyed house they moved into 35 years ago in Dabri, near Dashrathpuri, an unauthorised colony in Palam, Southwest Delhi. The family grew too — her sons married and had children, with the 11 members now sharing the five-bedroom house.
“With no electricity, it used to be hard to get my children to study. Even when we had power, the lights used to go out for hours,” she says, sitting in her living room as her granddaughter reads from a picture book.
Kumari says that when the neighbourhood got a regular power supply around two decades ago, the prices were cheap. “During the Congress rule around 2002-03, it was around Rs 2 for a unit, before it became expensive.” The family recalls the increasing power costs, which ran into a couple of thousands by the time the AAP government announced the free electricity up to 200 units in August 2019.
In August 2019, with six months to go for the Delhi Assembly elections and stung by the Aam Aadmi Party’s disastrous showing in the Lok Sabha elections, the AAP government in Delhi took two back to back decisions — on electricity and water.
On August 1, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal announced that households consuming up to 200 units of electricity would not have to pay electricity bills and that those consuming between 200 and 400 units would get a 50% subsidy.
Days later, on August 27, he announced a one-time waiver of arrears on water bills and said consumers who got functional meters installed would get an exemption from late fee. This was in addition to the existing water subsidy that provided households 20,000 litres of water, free, every month.
Even as the Opposition attributed political motives to AAP’s subsidies, the Congress’s Delhi election manifesto said that the party would provide 50 per cent discount on 300-400 units of power consumption, 30 per cent on 400-500 units, and 25 per cent on 500-600 units. The BJP manifesto said the existing power subsidies would continue if they won.
Meena Kumari (sitting on floor) says since Kejriwal announced the power subsidy, her bill has come down by half. (Express photo by Amit Mehra)
Meena’s household, with one 1 KV electricity meter, consumes about 400 units a month. The family has three water coolers and three TVs — one for each sub-unit in the joint family.
The family, which used to run up electricity bills of Rs 4,500-5,000 in the summer months, now pays around half that. The family plans to install another meter soon, hoping that will cut down their bill further.
The 4.9 million domestic power consumers in Delhi — of whom around 35% consume less than 200 units — get their power supply from Tata Power Delhi Distribution Ltd (TPDDL), Delhi Transco Limited (DTL), BSES Rajdhani Power Limited (BRPL) and BSES Yamuna Power Limited (BYPL). In its previous term, the Delhi government also announced the Mukhyamantri Kirayedar Bijli Meter Yojna, for separate pre-paid meters for tenants, and the Mukhyamantri Solar Rooftop Scheme for cooperative housing societies.
In 2019-20, the power subsidies cost the Delhi government Rs 2,255 crore.
The AAP government is the first in the country to declare free power up to 200 units. In Mumbai, the tariffs range between Rs 2.93-Rs 4.77 per unit for 0-100 units and Rs 5.18-Rs 8.23 per unit for 101-300 units. In Bengaluru, consumers pay Rs 3.75 per unit for 0-30 units, Rs 5.20 per unit for 31-100 units, and Rs 6.75 per unit for 101-200 units.
So far, Meena is not complaining. “Since Kejriwal came, the supply has become regular. Now power cuts, if at all they happen, last only for 10 minutes.”
Kumari’s three sons — Raj Kumar, 35, Rajender Kumar, 32, and Ajay Kumar, 30 — own mobile shops, with each earning an average of Rs 25,000 a month. “The lower electricity bills are good, but somehow or the other, the money is never enough. I only manage to save about Rs 2,000 a month,” says Rajender.
Meena says that while the lower electricity bill is a benefit, the “real blessing” since the AAP government came in has been the regular piped water supply. “Earlier, tankers used to come once a week. My shoulders still ache from all the water I used to carry back home those days. Though the earlier Congress government laid the connections, the water came only after Kejriwal came to power.”
Meena says she hopes her family saves enough money to be able to renovate their home — she points to the paint that’s peeling off the walls. She also wants her sons to get better jobs. “What more? Just these basic things. That’s all,” says Kumari.