New Delhi: The Narendra Modi government’s first post-pandemic budget has painted a nuance picture with regard to social sector spending, according to The Wire’s analysis of this year’s allocations.
Out of five key ministries examined — Health, Women and Child, Education, Agriculture and Rural Development — the budgetary allocations of three have decreased in comparison to the budgetary allocations they received last year.
However, the table below also shows that of the 12 key policy programmes examined, seven initiatives received higher funding (FY’22 BE in comparison to FY’21 BE). Three remained mostly flat, while two received less allocation.
The tables by themselves don’t tell the full picture though.
Despite rights activists pointing out that a large number of people have lost their jobs, moved back to the villages and taken up work there and thus there was a need to put more money in schemes like the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Program, the allocation for the scheme under the rural development ministry has seen only a slight increase over the previous Budget.
While the FY’22 BE (Rs 73,000 crore) is higher than the BE for FY’21 (Rs 61,500 crore), it is far less than what Rs 1,11,500 crore the government actually spent on the programme for this financial year (FY’21 RE).
In the last Budget, a sum of Rs 61500 crore was allocated for the scheme enhancing livelihood security of households in rural areas of the country by providing at least one hundred days of guaranteed wage employment in a financial year to every household whose adult members volunteer to do unskilled manual work.
The Act, which covers all the rural districts of the country, was framed with the objective of providing up to 100 days of unskilled manual work in a financial year to every household in rural areas as per demand resulting in creation of productive assets of prescribed quality and durability, strengthening the livelihood resource base of the poor, proactively ensuring social inclusion and strengthening Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs).
However, social activist Nikhil Dey, who works with Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan, recently expressed the hope that the Government should ideally increase the work entitlement for MGNREGA to at least 150 days, double the budget and put in place an urban employment guarantee act.
Noting that during COVID, India witnessed the highest level of job losses, food security and starvation, he said, “working people have suffered deep distress”.
Stating that “if it had not been for MGNREGA and the National Food Security Act (NFSA), the distress would have been even more acute”, he said “the government allocated Rs 40,000 crore more to MGNREGA to make a total of one lakh crore.”
But in view of a large number of people migrating back to their villages, 1,56 crore new job cards being issued, and an additional 2.79 crore workers seeking and getting work under MGNREGA, Dey stated that ideally “the government should increase the work entitlement for MGNREGA to at least 150 days and at least double the budget to Rs 2 lakh crore”.
As against the BE for FY 2020-21 being 61,500, the Revised Estimate for spending on MGNREGS was Rs 111500 crore, or Rs 50,000 more.
This was so because to absorb the migrant returnees during the COVID pandemic, the Centre allocated an additional Rs 40,000 crore for the scheme. However, as half of the total MGNREGS money was used during the first four months of the financial year 2020-21, the activists point out that most gram panchayats in the country have already exhausted the funds.
As such, the fresh allocation of Rs 73,000 crore for FY 2021-22 does not inspire much confidence since the spending in the current fiscal has shown that the demand for funds under the scheme is really high.
In an alarming display of negligence, the union government has sharply slashed budget allocation for education for FY’22 by Rs 6,088 crore in comparison to the budgetary outlay in FY’21. This has come at a time when schools and universities have remained shut for over 10 months, and are in desperate need for a special package to be back on track.
That education has remained one of the low-priority areas for the Narendra Modi government can be inferred from the fact that it wasn’t able to spend the allocations made in the 2020-21 budget. While it had set aside Rs 99,312 crore for the education ministry in FY’21(BE), it could spend only Rs 85,089 crore (FY’21 RE) in a year that witnessed scores of students struggling to attend online classes and had restricted access to education.
Despite such unprecedented exigencies, the union government allocated only Rs 93,224 crores for education (Rs 54,873.66 crores for schools and Rs 38,350.65 crores for higher education) in the 2021-22 budget.
Curiously, the finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman thought it fit this year to open more routes to privatise school education. She announced that the union government would include 100 government-run Sainik schools to be managed under the public-private partnership programme, and open around 750 Eklavya schools across India.
Experts have been pointing out that spending on Eklavya schools (one-teacher schools) instead of full-fledged facilities for children should only be a stop-gap arrangement in between the government’s efforts to build permanent education infrastructure. “The sharp dip in the education budget only goes on to show the government’s preference for privately-funded education over the existing model of public education. At a time when there should have been an opportunity to invest more on public education, it has chosen to go the opposite way,” Ambarish Rai, national convenor of an advocacy collective Right To Education Forum, told The Wire.
“PPE model in public schools would mean that NGOs would effectively run the schools. We all know which NGOs would land such contracts,” he added, while pointing out that budgetary allocations for school education has come down to Rs 31300 crores in 2021-22 from Rs 36, 400 crores last year.
Sitharaman’s announcement that the government would improve the infrastructure in around 15000 schools appears to be another way to outsource the task to private players.
The dip in the education budget may also impact India’s efforts to contain COVID-19 pandemic. Official figures clearly quote that only 54% schools in India have facilities of drinking water, functioning toilets and hand wash – three absolute essentials to keep safe from the coronavirus. The Right to Education Act provides for such facilities to be built in schools. However, its implementation has only lagged since many years, the last year being the worst.
“The union government had proudly announced the New Education Policy that contained multi-layered transformations. However, successively poor allocations in the budget for education shows that the government is not confident of its own model,” said Rai.
Amid speculation that India’s health sector would be given a boost in light of the pandemic, the health ministry has been allocated Rs 73, 931.77 crore in Budget 2021-22, which is an almost 10% increase from last year, according to official documents released on Monday afternoon.
What is more interesting, and perhaps even curious, is that the revised estimate (RE) for FY 2020-21 stood at Rs 82,928 crore, which is over 20% more than the corresponding budget estimate.
In the National Health Mission scheme, the government spent Rs 35,534 crore, as against Rs 34,115 crore allocated last year. For 2021-22, the government has allocated Rs 37,130 crore which is a slight increase of 8.8%.
For the national AIDS and STD control programmes, the RE for the FY 2020-21 stood at Rs 2,900 crore and the BE this time is also Rs 2,900 crore.
In the Pradhan Mantri Swasthya Suraksha Yojana, the allocation has seen an increase of 16%, with the BE of Rs 7,000 crore. The RE last year stood at Rs 7,517 crore against the BE of Rs 6,020 crore.
A new scheme called the Pradhan Mantri Atmanirbhar Swasth Bharat Yojana has been announced for which Rs 64,180 crore have been set aside, to be spent over six years. However, bifurcation of Rs 64,180 crore is not clear.
To push its vaccination drive, Rs 35,000 crore have been announced for COVID-19 vaccine. This amount is almost equal to 46.9% of the entire health allocation and means the significant part of the health budget is going to be used to fight against COVID-19.
The health budget also provides proposals for 15 health emergency centres along with directions to strengthen the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) which manages infectious diseases having the potential of escalating into large-scale outbreaks.
As part of its initiatives towards the rural areas, two mobile hospitals have been proposed to overcome the accessibility issue in remote areas.
It has further focused on malnutrition. An improvised Mission Poshan 2.0 has been proposed which is going to be an umbrella programme under which supplementary nutrition programmes and poshan mission will be merged
The allocation for Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi (PM-Kisan) scheme, which PM-KISAN accounted for 53% of the allocation to the Ministry of Agriculture in 2020-21, has decreased by Rs 10,000 crore in comparison to the budeet Estimate for FY 2020-21. However, the allocation remains the same as the revised estimate for FY 2020-21 at Rs 65,000 crore.
The scheme was devised with the aim to provide income support to all farmer families across the country, and to enable them to take care of expenses related to agriculture and allied activities as well as domestic needs.
Under the scheme, the Central Government makes a payment of Rs 6,000 per year in three quarterly instalments of Rs 2,000 to the farmer families, subject to certain exclusion relating to higher income groups.
Though about 14.5 crore farmer are expected to be covered under the Scheme, RTI queries filed last year revealed that during the COVID-19 lockdown period, from March 23 to July 31, 2020, when farmers were in the dire need of funds and assistance, as many as 11.2 lakh payment transfers under PM-KISAN scheme failed.
Additionally, till late December 2020, nearly 44% of the transfer failures had not been addressed, the department of agriculture, cooperation and farmers’ welfare stated in a response to a query under the Right to Information (RTI) Act.
While in the Budget 2020-21, a sum of Rs 75000 crore was allocated for the scheme, the revised estimate put the figure at Rs 65,000 crores. And for the upcoming fiscal, the amount has been kept at the same level.
Women and Child Development
The impact of any crisis is never gender-neutral. As the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic deepened in the country, women, and children were among the worst hit. While women, especially those involved in domestic and unorganised sectors were the first to face the brunt of the economic slowdown, loss of livelihoods and weakened income capacities, children too were severely impacted by the deep digital- divide induced by the pandemic.
Contrary to the expectations, the budget this year has rather been disappointing. None of the primary concerns of women and children made it to the list and only Rs 24,435 crore were allocated for the Women and Child Development department — i.e, Rs 5,572 crore lower than the past year.
The FY21 budget had set aside Rs 30,000 crore for WCD ministry – a 14% increase over the FY’20 budget.
India has been conducting gender-responsive budgeting (GRB) as a part of its Union Budget since 2005-06, in tandem with several European countries and, the United Kingdom. Soon after the Budget presentation, prime minister Narendra Modi said that “This budget has categorically made announcements to ease and make lives of women better.” However, the numbers suggest no clear outline for women welfare, job losses suffered in the past year or loss of education faced by children.
In the budget speech that lasted over an hour and fifty minutes, finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman did not lay much emphasis on the allocations made for several schemes under the WCD but mentioned that women will be allowed to work in all sectors and in night shifts, with adequate safety. “Women will be allowed to work in all categories and also in the night-shifts with adequate protection. At the same time, compliance burden on employers will be reduced with single registration and licensing, and online returns,” Sitharaman said.
According to Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) data, the participation rate of the urban female labour fell to its lowest in November at 6.9 percent since the day data was first computed in 2016. This concern, however, did not reflect in the budget.
Even amid the rising concerns of women’s safety, the budgetary allocation under the “mission for protection and empowerment for women” has been dramatically slashed from Rs 726 crore last year to a meager Rs 48 crore. The allocation under the “schemes for the safety of women” too has been brought down to Rs. 100 crores from Rs. 171.63 crores in 2020-21.
With the farmers’ agitation against the three farm laws brought in the previous Monsoon Session still raging at the borders of Delhi, Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman today emphasised a great deal on the Centre’s procurement policy and schemes for the agriculture sector, that employs nearly half of the country’s workforce.
The total budgetary allocation for the sector for 2021-22 has decreased by around Rs 11,231 crore in comparison to the budget estimate for 2020-21.
However, the FY’22 BE (Rs 1,31,531.19 crore) is about 5.6% more than the RE for FY 21 (Rs 1,24,520.3 crore). This may have been because the Centre was unable to spend on some schemes due to the COVID-19 lockdown.
As the farmers have been demanding that the Minimum Support Price be made mandatory and purchases of produce below it be made an offence, Sitharaman while dealing with the topic said, “the MSP regime has undergone a change to assure price that is at least 1.5 times the cost of production across all commodities.”
She also claimed that the disbursement for procurement of wheat, paddy and pulses has gone up significantly over the past six years. “In case of wheat, the total amount paid to farmers in 2013-14 was Rs 33,874 crore. In 2019-20, it was Rs 62,802 crore”. She added that in the current fiscal, the amount has risen to over Rs 75,000 crore.”
Similarly, for paddy, she said, the amount has risen from Rs 63,928 crore in 2013-14 to Rs 141,930 crore in 2019-20, with the expectation for the current fiscal being Rs 1,72,752 crore.
Likewise, in the case of pulses, the Minister said the payment rose from Rs 236 crore 2013-14 to Rs 8,285 crore in 2019-20 and was expected to reach Rs 10,530 crore in 2020-21 – “more than 40 times increase from 2013-14”.
She said the number of farmers who have benefited from this procurement has also increased significantly.
The Finance Minister also announced an increase in the agriculture infrastructure fund to Rs 40,000 crore and doubled the micro-irrigation corpus to Rs 10,000 crore. As the farmers have been protesting against the introduction of private mandis or wholesale markets, the Minister said 1,000 more mandis will be integrated with the electronic national market.
She added that the agriculture infrastructure fund would be made available to APMCs to augment infrastructure facilities. This sought to address the charge that the government was deliberately trying to weaken the APMC procurement system so that ultimately the farmers were left at the mercy of the private markets.