The Union Budget Must Not Ignore Social Security for Children

Children near Rishikesh. Credit: Paulrudd, Wikipedia cc

Children near Rishikesh. Credit: Paulrudd, Wikipedia cc

The government is gearing up to prepare the Union Budget 2016-17. The Ministry of Finance is holding pre-budget consultations with various groups for their inputs to make it inclusive and progressive. The Finance Minister, in his opening remarks during the pre-budget meetings with the social sector mentioned that Inclusive growth is high on the priorities of the present government and the government will take adequate measures to ensure social security for the children, women and senior citizens of the country.

Similar promises were made last year when the Finance Minister mentioned in his budget speech of 2015-16 that the government was committed for the welfare of poor and adequate provisions had been made for the schemes for ‘poor’ and ‘disadvantaged’. But the allocation of financial resources for social security programmes and particularly those for children reflected otherwise.

The child rights community was shocked to see sudden and drastic cuts in budgets for children in the national budget, 2015-16. Children received a meagre 3.26% share in the total financial resources, which was a massive 29% reduction in the share of children from 2014-15 Union Budget. Since 2008-09, children received the lowest allocations in last eight years in 2015-16.

What is more, the allocations for Ministry of Women and Child Development were cut down by almost 51 per cent in the 2015-16 Union Budget. The Ministry of Human Resource Development received 17 per cent lesser allocations in the Union Budget of 2015-16 as compared to the previous year. Similarly, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare saw a severe 13 per cent cut in allocations.

Allocations for most of the children-specific centrally sponsored schemes (CSS) were cut down severely. For example, allocation for the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS), the umbrella scheme for providing nutrition to children, was slashed by 54%, for Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), the flagship scheme to implement RTE Act, the allocation was cut by 21%. And allocations for Mid-Day Meal Scheme were hacked by 30 per cent in the Union Budget 2015-16.

Blame it on the Fourteenth Finance Commission…

Statement 22 (a separate budget statement on children related scheme) of the 2015-16 Union Budget, explained  these cuts on account of enhanced devolution of Union taxes to the states as recommended by the Fourteenth Finance Commission (FFC) and to keep the funding for such programmes unchanged, states were to contribute from their enhanced resources. The Fourteenth Finance Commission recommended that share of the states in the divisible pool of taxes should be increased to 42% from 32%.

While, in principle, the devolution of Central taxes to States is an ideal arrangement, there have been various reports about States feeling unhappy about the new arrangement. Economists are concerned over the suddenness with which the changed devolution mechanisms been thrust upon States.

According to Dr. Jean Dreze, the devolution of central taxes to States is not bad in principle, but what is objectionable is that it is being done without warning or clarity.  Professor Yashvir Tyagi, an economist is of the view that “the Centrally Sponsored Schemes are meant to have national focus on poverty alleviation or welfare. By putting the onus on States, Centre is shedding its responsibility.” Apart from the experts and the activist groups, the States have been voicing the discomfort about this new fiscal development.

Although, devolution of Central taxes to State governments is expected in increased share of States, the States’ revenue are not going to increase multiple folds. For example, Tamil Nadu has not gained due to higher devolution of taxes. There is only about 1.16% increase to Tamil Nadu after increased devolution by the 14th Finance Commission.

Moreover, most of the weaker States are not fully equipped to generate resources on their own and it is feared that children related schemes would not form the core of their plans. Thus in order to fulfill the National Development Agenda, the States cannot be left on their own without significant support from the Central government. The States have raised their inability to adapt to the new fiscal arrangement even in the Report of the Sub-Group of Chief Ministers on Rationalization of Centrally Sponsored Schemes (CSS)’, constituted by NITI Ayog.

Concerns raised by the states

Concerns were expressed by the States about the sudden reduction in Central shares in key schemes such as National Health Mission, ICDS etc with the clear indication that the States would not have have the resources to meet their share.

The government of Andhra Pradesh noted that “The reduction in the Central share for key schemes such as SSA, National Health Mission, ICDS, etc., will have adverse effect on the State development indicators. Hence, sudden changes in the schemes are not desirable.” Similarly, the Chattisgarh government submittedThe major proportion of the allocation under Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA) and National Health Mission (NHM) is for teachers and health workers and such expenditure is necessary and unavoidable.

In order to ensure the inclusion and social security of children, the Central government must pay attention to the issues raised by States and the upcoming Union Budget must include some of the following policies which are pertinent to the issues of children:

Centrally Sponsored Schemes related to children must be majorly financed by the Union Budget and the States’ role in implementation of these schemes should be seen as supplementary. Thus, as highlighted in the ‘Chief Minister’s Sub-Group Report on Rationalisation of CSS’, children-related schemes are one of the critical elements of National Development Agenda and these programmes must be kept in the “Core of the Core Schemes” category and the burden of implementing the CSS should not be left to the States majorly.

Allocations of financial resources for the key nodal ministries and flagship schemes related to children must increase significantly. At the same time, the programmes related to child education and child health must be adequately financed to meet the challenges. Child protection has always been at the peripheries and this must be addressed by investing into the programmes designed to create the protective net and to mainstream children falling out of the protective net.

Financial provisions

Legislation and policies meant for ensuring protection of child rights must have financial provisions reflected in the budget. For example, Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 (POCSO), does not have any financial backing built into the budget. As a result state governments are struggling to find resources for meeting requirements of special educators, translators and interpreters, setting up special courts with child-friendly infrastructure etc.

Timely disbursal, utilisation and a proper monitoring mechanism needed to achieve outcomes Under expenditure in flagship schemes affects implementation and thus adequacy of allocations cannot be assessed. Effective measures of monitoring and accountability must be developed to curb under-expenditure. Timely disbursal, utilisation and a proper monitoring mechanism will reduce under-spending.

Integrated Child Protection Schemes (ICPS) needs to be strengthened in the light of new Juvenile Justice Act. ICPS is one of the major flagship Centrally Sponsored Schemes for child protection in our country and is the only instrument to implement Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act. With the newly enacted JJ Act, 2014, there are new mandates of bringing on board experts, psychologists, counsellors etc for proper rehabilitation. This additional responsibility would require more funds. Moreover, the new Act also talks about creating Borstal Homes or Place of Safety for young offenders committing serious crimes, which do not exist in the country. Unless the financial provisions for these establishments are not reflected in the upcoming budget for ICPS, we would fail to achieve the objectives of reform and rehabilitation of children falling out of the protective net.

There is a deficit in the budget to meet the requirements under this scheme. Apart from this, the restructuring of ICDS, bringing it in mission mode needs additional investment with additional provisions into systems for getting ICDS to cover the children who now get left out (e.g. migrants, transients). This will also necessitate revisiting the provisions for reaching underserved and unreached tribal settlements which may require specific budgetary allocations.

Kumar Shailabh is with HAQ: Centre for Child Rights

  • The budget cuts are alarming indeed; but of even more concern is shifting the onus to the states. I run a non-profit in Uttarakhand and we find working with the state bureaucracy infinitely more difficult than working with the Central Government. Our state is particularly dysfunctional, but we are surely not alone in this regard (Bihar, Orissa and UP spring to mind). And while states will surely cry at the demand that they raise revenue themselves, they also have much to answer for in unspent budgets which return to the centre year on year.