CSE: A Press Statement Delhi government budget: Are we losing the public transport agenda of aam aadmi?

Anumita Roycowdhury, executive director-research and advocacy, CSE

We have just got a glimpse of the Delhi government’s budget. It is of great interest to us, as some of the key interventions that the Delhi government is focused on have a huge potential -- if done well, they can very well turn out to be a game changer for the pollution and mobility crisis. 

Can this budget set us on a corrective and curative course? The signals are mixed and worrying.  

First the good news: especially in the areas that are the direct responsibility of the Delhi government -- Delhi will get 20 more air quality monitoring stations that can help map out exposures in our neighbourhoods better to refine action. Of course, this grid will have to be designed well to capture all densely populated land uses in the city. It is also good to know that the rooftops of Delhiites will now be used for generating solar power. Hope solar and natural gas together will help us get rid of the only remaining coal-based power plant (at Badarpur) soon. 

Weaker agenda for public transport 

Our biggest expectation from the new budget, however, was in the area of public transport which is the direct responsibility of the Delhi government. This is the next big ticket agenda that Delhi needs for controlling pollution and congestion. But the nature of allocation for the transport sector shows how this agenda has become weaker over time. Rs 5,506 crore has been earmarked for both transport sector infrastructure and public transport. But bus transport gets just about Rs 100 crore for the construction of bus depots and new DTC buses – this is less than 2 per cent of the proposed transport sector spending! Additionally, all buses will get electronic ticketing machines. Moreover, Rs 1,156 crore will go to the DMRC for the Metro, which seems like a separate allocation.

This is certainly a step back and a gross deviation from some of the early budgetary promises we had got in June 2015. The AAP government had started by putting forward a big plan of procuring 1,380 semi-low floor buses, 500 midi buses under DTC and around 1,000 more buses under the cluster scheme. It had proposed to bring 10,000 buses of different specifications to meet the differentiated needs of commuters. The government had even proposed an unified fare system on a single media for payment and improved IT applications to provide public information on bus services for a multi-modal integration. None of these have happened; nor have they been included in this year’s budget to take the agenda forward. 

While old promises have not been kept, new promises are weaker. This is a very serious concern as over the last two years – since the AAP government came to power -- DTC has already lost a whopping 8 lakh bus passengers: from 43 lakh daily to 35 lakh daily. How can Delhi ever hope to meet the target of the Delhi Master Plan 2021, of having an 80 per cent share of public transport ridership by 2020? Even with a full network in place, the Metro can meet only 20 per cent of the travel demand, as RITES estimates show. Buses, according to RITES, would need to meet 73 per cent of the public transport demand. This budget has no proposal for comprehensive bus transport improvement. 

Travel vertically up: Status quo on ground

The government seems quite wary of changing the status quo and clearing up the mess on the ground. After exhausting at- grade space (roads are already 22 per cent of Delhi’s geographical area – highest in the country), the Delhi government now plans to move vertically up – exactly what global cities are trying to undo. The new transport budget is all about high speed elevated corridors for vehicles to zig zag through -- Barapullah Nallah phase-II from Jawahar Lal Nehru Stadium to INA (Aurobindo Marg), Barapullah Nallah phase-III from Sarai Kale Khan to Mayur Vihar, etc. 

Two high-speed elevated corridors will get dedicated bus lanes — one along Anand Vihar Terminal to Peeragarhi (East-West Corridor – 29 km) and the other from Wazirabad to Airport (North-South Corridor – 24 km). Whatever buses get is good. But this is not the same as providing efficient and reliable bus service to all in the city. 

Improvements will happen only at Sikandara Road, Mathura Road and Tilak Marg, where W points would be built to improve pedestrian access; the BSZ Marg will get a Skywalk near Hans Bhawan. There is nothing else about the grand plans of building infrastructure for walking and cycling to improve last mile connectivity. 

The AAP government had come to power with a manifesto that was quite unique and clear on its commitment to provide high quality public transport, secure last mile connectivity, and make pavements and cycle tracks etc. That was one manifesto that stood out as it did not promise flyovers and high speed corridors for vehicles. Is that promise already a victim of political expediency of prioritising vehicles over people, or is it a poor understanding of what it takes to address congestion and pollution? 

For more on CSE’s air pollution campaign, contact Souparno Banerjee, souparno@cseindia.org , 9910864339.