The Budget is passed by parliament on the basis of certain allocations for critical areas. How, then, can these allocations be drastically changed without parliamentary approval?
This is the second article in a two-part series. Read the first part here.
Any analysis of recent Budgets in terms of comparing Budget estimates and revised estimates will reveal that often reductions are made even in priority schemes in an arbitrary manner. At the time when these cuts are made, no consultation is held with affected groups (or their representatives, like organisations of workers, farmers or women). There is no public announcement. Reliable information becomes available to people only much later, when the financial year is almost over and efforts to stop these cuts are meaningless.
This is a serious question not just of transparency but of democracy as well, since the Budget is passed by the parliament on the basis of certain allocations for critical areas. How, then, can these allocations, particularly for vulnerable people and critical sectors, be changed without parliamentary approval?
Of course we are not talking here of relatively small cuts of 5% or so, which could be based on various practical considerations. But when cuts between 25-100% are made in a cavalier manner, as is evident from data on the previous year’s Budget, then questions need to be raised.
After all, people have a right to know what happened in the relatively short period between the presentation of the Budget and the preparation of the revised estimates which made it necessary to curtail allocations for priority sectors and schemes, with which the welfare of millions of people is closely associated. Unfortunately, however, such reasons are seldom given, a reasoned debate seldom takes place; instead reductions are made arbitrarily, silently and secretly.
The nearest one came to an informed debate on this issue was in the year 2014-15, the first year of the present NDA government. An interim Budget had been presented by the previous Congress-led government that year, but the final Budget was presented very late by the NDA government. In this Budget, many allocations for the social sector were retained at the same level as the interim Budget.
However, within a few weeks of the new government settling in, disquieting news started appearing that big reductions were being planned in the revised estimates for several welfare-oriented schemes. Some social activists and voluntary organisations decided to take this issue further, but these efforts could only go so far in the absence of more definitive information.
Several weeks later, with the financial year about to end, official data on revised estimates was finally released, which made it clear that there had been big cuts in several important schemes in the last few months of the financial year. As that year the Budget presentation had been much later, decisions relating to these big cuts taken within a few weeks of budget presentation appeared more arbitrary, sudden and difficult to understand.
The official data for 2014-15 revealed that the budget for Beti Bachao Beti Padhao had been reduced from Rs 90 crore to Rs 45 crore, while the budget for restorative justice to rape victims had been reduced from Rs 20 crore to zero. Similarly, the budget for Rashtriya Mahila Kosh, one-stop crisis centres and assistance to states for the implementation of the Domestic Violence Act had also been reduced to zero in the revised estimates. The budget of the most important scheme for adolescent girls called SABLA had been reduced from Rs 700 crore to Rs 630 crore, while that for reform homes was reduced even more drastically.
The budget of the Department of Disability Affairs was reduced from Rs 632 crore to Rs 441 crore, with some schemes facing drastic cuts. The budget for the Department of Health and Family Welfare was reduced from a Budget estimate of Rs 35,163 crore to a revised estimate of Rs 29,042 crore.
Allocation for the Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation was reduced from a Budget estimate of Rs 6,008 crore to a revised estimate of Rs 3,413 crore. The allocation of the Ministry of Urban Development was reduced from a Budget estimate of Rs 17,628 crore to a revised estimate of Rs 11,013 crore. The revised estimate for the National Livelihood Mission was found to be only Rs 733 crore compared to Budget estimate of Rs 1,003 crore.
These arbitrary Budget reductions can be very harmful for vulnerable groups. Yet, governments continue to carry them out in an unaccountable, secretive manner.
Bharat Dogra is a freelance journalist who has been involved with several social movements and initiatives.