New Delhi: In her budget speech delivered on Wednesday morning, finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman repeated many times that this was the first budget of the ‘Amrit kaal‘, and would set the tone for the years ahead. But what does it really say about the government’s priorities? A clearer answer is perhaps available in the budget papers.
In eight charts, The Wire breaks down how much the Centre has spent on key sectors and certain flagship welfare schemes over the last year few years, and how much it is promising to spend in the year ahead.
1. Fiscal deficit
The government’s planned fiscal deficit (basically how much expenditure exceeds revenue by) for the upcoming financial year has been set at 5.9% of GDP. That’s less than both what was planned and achieved – 6.4% – in the previous financial year.
According to Sitharaman, the target of 5.9% next year is consistent with the broad path of fiscal consolidation announced over the last two years, to reach a fiscal deficit of 4.5% by 2025-26. She had spoken of this target last year too.
The last few years have been difficult for students across the country, as the COVID-19 pandemic led to long school and college closures. Surveys have found serious gaps in learning – even to the extent of loss of the ability to read – among students who do not have the means or space to attend online classes regularly.
In the last two financial years, however, the government actually spent less on education than it had originally planned. This year’s planned expenditure (Rs 1,12,899 crore) is higher than both what was planned and what was spent last year.
In a surprising move, the allocation for the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act has been reduced drastically in this year’s Budget – to Rs 60,000 crore. This despite the fact that the revised estimate for FY’23 was at Rs 89,400 crore, up from the budget estimate of Rs 73,000 crore.
4. Rural development
Another area that has seen a decrease in allotment based on last year’s expenditure (though not on last year’s budget estimate) is rural development. The planned allocation for this year is Rs 2,38,2o4 crore, down from last year’s revised estimate of Rs 2,43,417 crore.
The planned expenditure on health has gone up for the upcoming year, to Rs 88,956 crore. What is worth noting, however, is that the revised estimates for the last year (Rs 77,351 crore) is substantially lower than what was planned (Rs 86, 606 crore).
6. Food subsidies
The planned expenditure on food subsidies too has reduced – a pattern that has been seen over the last few years. The budget estimate for this year (Rs 1,97,350 crore) is much lower than the revised estimate for last year (Rs 2,87,194 crore).
7. PM Poshan/midday meals
While the planned expenditure on PM Poshan, which covers the midday meal scheme in government schools, has increased compared to last year’s budget estimate, it is in fact more than Rs 1,000 crore lower than last year’s revised estimate.
The midday meal is an important part of ensuring school attendance, particularly after the COVID-19-related lockdown, as well as for the overall betterment of nutritional outcomes.
8. PM Kisan
The allocation for PM Kisan has broadly remained the same, largely because the scheme involves disbursal of a fixed amount of money to a mostly unchanging number of farmers. This year’s budget estimate matches last year’s revised estimate exactly, at Rs 60,000 crore, but is Rs 8,000 crore less than last year’s budget estimate.