Why the revdi culture debate is crucial for India
India faces a critical question after 75 years of independence: do we prioritize the use of public funds to develop our human potential, or do we give them in the form of corporate tax cuts and corporate loan cancellations in the hope that this will trigger a virtuous cycle of development?
This is the question at the heart of the ongoing freebie vs revdi policy debate with Prime Minister Narendra Modi throwing veiled beards at Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and party welfare role model Aam Aadmi.
During the last seven years of its rule in Delhi, the AAP government has given rise to a distinct welfare model that prioritizes investment in the citizens of Delhi. The transformation of public education and public health care is at the heart of the AAP social protection model. Public schools in Delhi have witnessed unprecedented transformation, whether in terms of physical infrastructure, providing world-class training for principals and teachers at reputable institutions such as IIMs in India and abroad, and an innovative program that has transformed the quality of learning in classrooms.
As a result, public schools in Delhi are now performing better than their private peers and almost four lakh children have moved from private to public schools. The transformation caught the world’s attention with former US first lady Melania Trump choosing to visit a ‘happiness class’ at a government school in Delhi in 2020 and the New York Times reported. one about transforming the lives of millions of people. poor families in Delhi due to the education model of the AAP government.
The establishment of a universal healthcare system under the AAP government in Delhi also presents a unique pattern. More than 500 mohalla clinics provide free diagnostics, medicines and tests to around 65,000 people every day, while 38 public hospitals provide free, quality treatment to thousands of patients every year, regardless of income level. or the cost of treatment. A large-scale expansion is underway that will see the capacity of clinics, as well as hospitals, double by 2025. None of this comes cheap. The AAP government spends 40% of its budget on education and health – the highest of any Indian government.
Delhi’s AAP government also provides free subsidies for electricity and water up to a certain level of consumption, devoting almost 5% of its budget to these two programs. These targeted grants serve to boost the productivity of Delhi’s most vulnerable citizens in addition to enabling them to live a dignified life. Yet, according to the CAG, the AAP government is the only government in India that has run a revenue surplus budget every year for the past five years, doubling its budget from Rs 30,000 crore to Rs 60,000 crore during that time.
Contrast this with the spending of BJP governments in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh – the three most prominent examples of the BJP welfare model – which spent only 18-20% of their budgets on education and health sectors over the past decade. None of them even claims to offer free, quality education or public healthcare for all. Each of these states, just like the rest of India, is seeing a continued migration of students from government to private schools, with Gujarat alone having closed many government schools over the past decade. Access to public schools and hospitals in these states is a mark of deprivation, not of choice.
Nationally too, the BJP government has never met its own investment targets in the education and health sectors. Ayushman Bharat Yojana (PMJAY), touted as the silver bullet to meet the public health needs of the masses, covers only a fraction of the population through the private sector-led insurance model, without guaranteeing health infrastructure. accessible and quality healthcare across India. The pandemic has exposed the shortcomings of this approach. India ranked 94th out of 107 countries in the Global Hunger Index in 2020 and 131st in the United Nations Human Development Index.
Does skimping on education and health mean that BJP-led states and the Center are doing well fiscally? Not if you look at their budgets. The UP government declared a budget deficit of Rs 81,000 crore for 2022-2023, while Gujarat and MP declared a budget deficit of Rs 36,000 crore and Rs 52,000 crore, respectively. The CAG even denounced Gujarat as risking falling into the debt trap.
But it is central government finances that should worry us all. Since 2015, its total debt has risen from Rs 53 lakh crore to Rs 136 lakh crore. A series of corporate tax cuts have led to huge revenue losses, during a period that has also seen India’s unemployment rise to its highest level in 45 years. Around Rs 10 lakh crore of bad debts from wealthy companies have been written off, largely from the books of public sector banks which operate under close government supervision with seemingly little consequence for the 12,265 willful defaulters.
Newsletter | Click to get the best explainers of the day delivered to your inbox
So that’s what the debate about the politics of free education boils down to. At one end is PM Modi and the BJP welfare model which systematically skimps on investment in the Indian people and has no human development model to present anywhere in India but considers giving cuts taxes and business loan forgiveness as an Article of Faith. At the other end is CM Kejriwal and the AAP social welfare model which sees investment in the education, health and basic services of the people of India as an article of faith and has done so with success in Delhi while being prudent in the management of public finances. .
The ongoing revdi policy debate highlights these two very contrasting visions of what will make India great. And that is why this is the most important debate of our time.
The author is Deputy Chairman of Delhi Dialogue and Development Commission