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NEW DELHI : The national capital will get a strong boost to its public transportation with a 50% increase in its passenger bus fleet to 11,000 buses in three years. Of these, two-thirds would be electric vehicles (EVs), said Dialogue and Development Commission of Delhi (DDCD) vice-chairperson Jasmine Shah in an interview. 

Shah has been advising the Delhi Government since 2016 on the environment, transport, education, and budget transparency reforms. With 75,800 crore Delhi budget for FY23 aimed at creating 2 million jobs over the next five years, Shah talked about redeveloping around 25 industrial areas, encouraging urban farming, ensuring safety standards for EVs, increasing the number of Mohalla clinics to 1000, and rolling out a Delhi shopping festival among other initiatives. Edited excerpts:

Can you take us through some changes that are already in and the ones in the pipeline?

If I have to recall some of the top reforms, clearly education has been the fundamental transformation that has happened. Today, most private schools in Delhi don’t boast of the kind of infrastructure that public schools and government schools in Delhi have. This government invests a lot in teacher training. We send our teachers abroad. The kind of curriculum reforms ushered in include happiness curriculum, entrepreneurship curriculum and Deshbhakti curriculum. We do see that for the last four years consecutively, Delhi's government schools have better 12th standard results than the private schools. Be it JEE or NEET, government school students who have been clearing it in record numbers.

In the healthcare system, Delhi has a functional three-tier healthcare system with Mohalla clinics. Close to 550 Mohalla clinics are operational. They'll reach 1,000 in a couple of years. We have 38 very good hospitals, which give completely free care, free medicines, free diagnosis and free surgery.

It involves giving the right budgetary allocation but more importantly, the political will to follow through and ensure that the solutions are implemented on the ground. In transport, there's a lot of work that is happening in increasing the efficiency of the public transport system.

What are they?

Delhi generally has a shortage of buses. When this government started, I think we were having about 5,500 buses. Today we have 7,200. This is including both DTC and cluster fleet buses. The number of DTC buses is roughly half. As of now, 3400-3500 would be DTC and 3800 would be cluster buses. This is going to be 11,000 by 2025.

We are working on electric mobility and clean mobility because that's a huge part of our vision for the future transport system of Delhi. First, the mainstay has to be public transport. You have to make sure that people of all classes in this society find it comfortable to use both metros as well as buses. Right now, we have 7200 buses. The rollout of EV buses in the city has just started. Delhi government has committed that all future purchases are going to be EVs. By the time we reach 11,000 buses, some of the buses from the current fleet of 7,200 would retire and those would also be replaced by EVs. We will see two-third buses as EVs.

What is the development of electric autorickshaws?

When we launched our EV policy one and a half years ago, we said that we want Delhi to be the EV capital of India. And we were the first state to set a target that a quarter of our new vehicles in 2024 should be EVs. We have already reached 12.5%. We are the first state to reach the point where 12.5% of new vehicles sold in any month are EVs. So, Delhi is already the EV capital of India. 70% of vehicles on the ground in Delhi are two-wheelers and three-wheelers. Our entire policy is geared towards prioritizing the transition of two-wheelers and three-wheelers to EVs.

There have been incidents of electric two-wheelers catching fire. Your comments?

It absolutely concerns us. In any country, the safety standards, and manufacturing standards are notified centrally. Automotive Research Association of India (ARAI) and the International Centre for Automotive Technology (ICAT) are the bodies that are doing testing. I think it is a timely wake-up call. We would be fully for the national testing agencies, and certification standards agencies to adopt best-in-class standards followed by the US and Europe.

Have you taken this issue up with the Centre?

No, we have not made a representation to the Centre because we know that the Centre is trying to do. First, we would like to hear what Centre is going to do and we ourselves are evaluating what is it that additionally over and above the Centre, that we should be doing. Because at the end of the day, we are also giving a subsidy. Delhi cannot stop the sale of a vehicle in Delhi. That only the Centre can do. But Delhi can very well decide if the criteria for who gets the subsidy from Delhi government, is Delhi's taxpayers' money. So, we are seeing if there is something that Delhi as a state government can also be doing.

For the longest time in Delhi, EVs were being led by e-rickshaws. Now, because of Delhi EV policy and our push on two wheelers, two wheeler sales for the first time in the last two months have eclipsed e-rickshaws.

Are you saying that given Delhi provides a substantial amount of subsidy for the purchase of such vehicles, you will be providing the subsidy component to only those vehicles, which match your own criteria?

No, what I am saying is that we are exploring that Delhi should do something of that nature. Our first preference would be for the Centre to adopt a rigorous regime. It is unlikely that manufacturers will adopt certain standards if they are selling in Delhi, and others for outside. In the long term, it is not viable. So, we would be expecting that Centre understands the scale of the challenge that is there today on the question on EV and comes up with something. We will explore. That is always there as an option.

What else are you doing for employment generation?

Delhi shopping festival is a huge initiative that Delhi government is taking this year. One of the major thrusts in the Delhi government's economic agenda is to strengthen demand, rather than saying that we would increase credit linkage and make some other supply side push.

We have kept a budget of 250 crore for iconic retail market redevelopment. That's how the demand will get stronger. Delhi shopping festival is all about bringing the regional, national and the global audience to Delhi's markets. We are learning from the big examples of Dubai and Singapore. It will be a festive atmosphere in the entire city. We will see how many numbers of markets can participate in the first year, but it will be a month-long shopping festival in the month of February next year in Delhi where you will see a mix of really good shopping deals, deep discounts and lotteries. There are three pillars of the shopping festival. There is shopping, there is entertainment, lot of events, cultural activities, arts, street arts, and then there is food.

Is there any kind of expenditure outgo from your part for these deep discounts?

We will see. We are exploring whether the government can give SGST refunds or other incentives. But, the bulk of our effort is going to be to bring the audience, the citizens into Delhi's markets during this period and a mix of events and promotions.

Is there anything else on this count, on employment?

There are a lot of things. We are planning to renovate Gandhinagar. We are working on urban farming and creating jobs through urban farming. Job creation through our solar policy and EV policy is also going to be a part of it. Non-conforming industrial areas in Delhi are being revived for the first time. There are 24-25 non-conforming industrial areas, we will totally redevelop them. There is some work in the existing industrial area also.

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