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Kolkata: The annual budgetary share for children in India has nearly halved since Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government took charge in 2014, an analysis of budgetary provisions for children’s welfare shows.
This budget includes spending on education, nutrition, health, protection and other developments, implemented through nearly two dozen ministries. The declining share of these allocations in the Union budget reflects the lack of importance afforded by the government to the welfare of children, according to child rights activists.
An analysis of the Union government’s expenditure towards children – as reflected in Statement 22 from 2008-09 to 2016-17 and Statement 12 thereafter – shows that the share of budgetary allocation for children stood at 4.64% in 2013-14 (according to the budget estimate), the last budget prepared by the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, and has come down to only 2.35% of India’s total budget in 2022-23.
The declining importance afforded to children in the Union Budget under Modi is reflected in another figure. While the size of the Budget grew by 119.78%; from Rs 1,794,892 crore in 2014-15 to Rs 3,944,909 crore in 2022-23, the budget for children grew by only 14.38%, from Rs 81,075 crore in 2014-15 to Rs 92,736.5 crore in 2022-23.
This comes despite the National Plan of Action for Children, 2016, published by the Ministry of Women and Child Development, which recommended that “at least 5% of the Union Budget must be spent on schemes and programmes directly related to children”.
According to budget estimates (BE), from 4.64% in 2013-14, children’s share in India’s budget came down to 4.52% in 2014-15; 3.26% in 2015-16; 3.32% in 2016-17; 3.32% 2017-18; 3.24% 2018-19; 3.29% in 2019-20; 3.16% in 2020-21; and 2.46% in 2021-22.
Budget 2022-23, in particular, upset child rights activists and NGOs working with children since it came against the backdrop of prolonged school closures (of more than 80 weeks). Since mid-2020, several child rights activists have highlighted that these school closures have made children more vulnerable in several regards; specifically, to child marriage and trafficking,
“This year’s budgetary allocation for children, as a proportion of the Union Budget, is actually the lowest in the last 10 years – it has been reduced by 2.41 percentage points; from 4.76% (2012-13 BE) to 2.35% (2022-23 BE),” said Puja Marwaha, chief executive officer of the NGO Child Rights and You (CRY).
“While children may not be the face of the pandemic, they might indeed be its biggest victims,” she said.
Protiva Kundu, thematic lead (social sectors) at the New Delhi-based policy think-tank, Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability (CBGA), said that there was no denying that the government of India’s priority for children has been declining over the past six-seven years.
“The budget for children is merely an act of accounting; a consolidated statement of whatever is being planned for expenditure by whichever department. It, of course, reflects a government’s intent and priority – the higher the share the higher the priority – but it says little of what is being achieved,” said Kundu, adding that a purpose-wise break-up of the allocations as well as an outcome budget (evaluation) would give a clearer picture.
Kundu did, however, welcome the government’s move of starting to share the actuals, along with budget estimates and revised estimates, over the last three years. “However, it reveals an even sorrier state of affairs as we see the actuals are below the budget estimates,” Kundu said.
A look at the figures shows that in 2018-19, Rs 76,114.21 crore was actually spent, while the budget estimate was Rs 79,088.35 crore. In 2019-20, the budget estimate stood at Rs 91,644.29 crore but Rs 80,439.58 crore was actually spent and in 2020-21, the budget estimate was Rs. 96,042.43 crore, whereas only Rs 77,482.03 crore was actually spent.
Budgeting for children
India has no separate budget for children. However, in 2008, the first UPA government introduced a separate statement specifically detailing the expenditure towards children through different schemes implemented by different ministries. This included expenditure towards children in all aspects; from education, nutrition and health to protection. This information has been provided every year since then, along with budgets for the welfare of women as well as Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST).
In 2008-09, the budget for children stood at Rs 33,433.82 crore, which was 4.45% of the total budget estimate of Rs 7,50,884 crore. The share went down to 3.64% the next year but gradually went up to 4.76% in 2012-13, when Rs. 71,028.11 crore was allotted for children through various schemes. This was the highest ever share for children.
In absolute terms, the 2022-23 budget for children saw an increase of 8.19% compared to the previous year, but the total size of the Union budget grew by 13.25%.
“It was rather upsetting to see that India’s budgetary allocation for children this year stood below what it was in the last pre-pandemic budget,” Kundu said, arguing that expectations were actually higher this year due to the damage the pandemic caused to children.
CRY recently released a sector-wise analysis of budgetary allocations for children in which it observed that child protection recorded a significant increase by 44.5%, while allocations for education saw an increase of 15%. On the other hand, the share for child development and health have gone down by 10.7% and 6.1% respectively.
“Allocations towards child protection have seen an increase of around 44%, from Rs 1,089.36 crores to 1,573.82 crores (2022-23 BE). A significant chunk of this increase can be attributed to the increase in funds under ‘Mission Vatsalya’ which constitutes the erstwhile Integrated Child Protection Services Scheme and Child Welfare. While this was much required, it would be important to note that these allocations are still lower than those in the years preceding the pandemic,” the analysis said.
It shows that the budgetary allocation for child protection stood at Rs 1,880 crore and 1,740 crore in 2020-21 and 2019-20 respectively.
The report also notes that the current allocation for the sector is inadequate in view of the increase rate of crimes against children, as reflected in the National Crime Records Bureau’s (NCRB) Crime in India report, as well as the increase in the number of children who have either been abandoned, left orphaned or lost a parent since the pandemic began in India in April, 2020.
According to Marwah, children, having witnessed the longest school closures in recent history, having been at the receiving end of disruptions in basic health, nutrition and child protection services. “The cumulative effect on children’s overall well-being is likely to be long lasting, unless swift, child-centric measures are taken,” she said.
In addition to the disruption of learning due to school closures, child rights activists also feel that bringing all students back to schools once the resume is, itself, going to be a herculean challenge because they fear that many of these children may now be engaged in jobs or married off by their parents. Moreover, malnutrition is feared to have spread further.
However, the Budget does not seem to offer child rights activists any hope for special attention for the under-18 age group, which constitutes one-third of the country’s population.
In India, education is on the concurrent list of subjects that involves both the Union and state governments, while health is in the state list. The states allocate a share of their annual budgets to education, according to their priorities. However, the Union budget on children also includes the budget for the Union Territories, apart from projects implemented in all states.