The 2023-24 Budget has seen a new round of cuts in social-security schemes, with declining allocations in real terms for NREGA, social security pensions, child nutrition programmes and maternity benefits. Taking all these together, we are more or less back to square one after 20 years, in terms of total expenditure on these schemes as a proportion of GDP (see Graph).
Governments have as much of an obligation to redistribution as to fostering growth. What we are seeing more and more is that allocations for social security schemes are going down in real terms, and sometimes even in nominal terms. One mind-boggling example is that the Central contribution to old-age pensions has stagnated at Rs 200 per month since 2006. Child nutrition schemes such as ICDS and school meals have also been grossly defunded in recent years. This year’s drastic MGNREGA budget cut is another example.