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After UPA-like noise, big slash

Finance minister Arun Jaitley today promised gifts for children, women, patients and the poor but slashed his government's funding across the social sectors.

By Our Bureau
  • Published 1.03.15

New Delhi, Feb. 28: Finance minister Arun Jaitley today promised gifts for children, women, patients and the poor but slashed his government's funding across the social sectors.

Budget outlays for education, health, rural development, social justice and women and children have fallen sharply or remain close to the outlays these sectors had received last year. 

The allocation for children under the women and child development ministry witnessed the sharpest fall from last year's outlay - by nearly 56 per cent. The funding for women under the same ministry is down almost 25 per cent.

The government has also proposed a 16 per cent cut overall in education, a nearly 16 per cent reduction in health funding, and a 10 per cent drop for the rural development ministry.

Reactions of dismay have poured in across these sectors.

"I am shocked, disappointed and aghast - the government has cut funds for almost all flagship schemes for children," said Enakshi Ganguly, a co-founder at the Haq Centre for Child Rights in New Delhi.

"Not just children, the entire social sector has taken a huge cut. What does this government wish to do? For whom is this 'Make in India' campaign? Which Indians are they targeting?"

Public health and social activists say the outlays run counter to comments Jaitley prefaced his speech with. He said his government would seek to provide medical services in every village, a secondary school within 5km of every child, and universal social security for every Indian.

But the health allocation has dropped from the Rs 35,163 crore pledged last year to Rs 29,653 crore. The government has also reduced funding for the AIDS control programme by about 22 per cent.

Public health experts say the Narendra Modi government last year pledged universal health assurance and free essential medicines and diagnostic tests for every Indian, but the outlays for health raise questions about the sincerity of those promises.

"We see a dissonance between the pledges made and the outlay announced today," said K. Srinath Reddy, senior cardiologist and president of the Public Health Foundation of India, New Delhi, a research and education institution.

"The government has promised universal health assurance, but this will remain unrealised without adequate resources for the required health infrastructure and human resources."

Health experts campaigning for improved public spending on health expressed disappointment.

"The government seems to be in no mood to listen," said Vandana Prasad, a paediatrician and member of the Jan Swasthya Abhiyan, a non-government network for public health campaigns.

"The government's so-called concern for the poor is not reflected in the healthcare funding."

In education, several schemes - including the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, the main vehicle to implement the Right to Education Act - will receive lower funds compared with last year.

The Sarva Shiksha outlay has dropped from Rs 28,000 crore to Rs 22,000 crore. The allocation for the Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan, a scheme for supporting secondary schools, has fallen from Rs 4,965 crore to Rs 3,548 crore while that for a scheme for a model school at the block level has plunged from Rs 1,074 crore to Rs 1 crore.

Ministry sources said the model school scheme had been transferred to state governments for examination and implementation.

The allocation for higher education has slipped from Rs 27,656 crore to Rs 26,855 crore, and that for the existing IITs from Rs 3,896 crore to Rs 3,538 crore.

Harsh Mander, social activist and former member of the National Advisory Council, rued that "allocations have gone down in all social sector programmes".

"Even Right-wing economists would recognise that health, education and nutrition are key to economic development, but the government is pulling out from the social sector," Mander said.

Rural development funds have been slashed by more than Rs 8,300 crore. The allocation for the Indira Awaas Yojana has fallen to Rs 10,000 crore from Rs 18,000 crore - at a time the government has said it aims to provide housing for four crore shelter-less rural families by 2022.

As for the National Social Assistance Programme - a scheme that provides pensions to the aged, widows and physically challenged people - its outlay is down from Rs 10,000 crore to Rs 9,000 crore.

The allocation under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act has risen from Rs 34,000 crore to Rs 34,699 crore. If the government generates more revenue, it would allocate another Rs 5,000 crore, the finance minister said.

Social activist Nikhil Dey described the increase as nominal. He said the finance minister's statement tying the allocation of another Rs 5,000 crore to generation of additional revenue went "against the spirit of the law".

"The MGNREGA is a rights-based scheme. The government is legally bound to give funds to states according to the demand for work. If the demand goes up to Rs 50,000 crore, the government will have to give it," he said.

Children's overall share in the budget has fallen from 4.2 per cent last year to 3 per cent of the approximate total amount of Rs 18 lakh crore.

Activists say it's ironic that the government, which began "gender-responsive budgeting" in 2005 to reduce gender disparity, allocating funds for women-related schemes across departments, has decreased the outlay from 4.19 per cent last year to 3.71 per cent.

"His promise of the Rs 1,000-crore Nirbhaya Fund is also flawed as even the previous allocations have remained unused. The government, it seems, has no concrete plan to implement this fund," a statement from the All India Democratic Women's Association said.