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Why Union Budget 2018 Is Neither For The Poor, Nor The Marginalised

Data projects a grim picture.

08/02/2018 1:28 PM IST | Updated 08/02/2018 1:43 PM IST
Financial Express

While addressing the country after the presentation of the Union Budget 2018-19, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that this budget will help marginalised communities and rural India grow.

However, a closer look at the allocations towards government welfare schemes -- meant for the development of marginalized communities like Dalits, Tribals and the rural population -- reveals that the government has failed to do justice.

The MGNREGA Scheme

The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) is one of the major programmes that provides jobs to the rural poor. Work permitted under the MGNREGA scheme addresses issues like poverty caused by drought, deforestation and soil erosion so that employment generation is sustainable. The allocation made to MGNREGA in this budget is Rs 55,000 crore over the Revised Estimates (RE) 2017-18 of Rs 55,000 crore. There has been no increase in the budgetary allocation to the MGNREGA this year despite the 2017-18 allocations not being able to keep pace with the increased demand of work under the scheme, resulting in various states accumulating large amounts of pending payments as had been reported by IndiaSpend on February 1, 2018.

As of February 02, 2018, Rs 52593.77 crore has already been spent under the scheme as against the RE 2017-18 of Rs 55,000 crore. With Rs 2406.23 crore in hand, the government has to run the scheme till 31 March, 2018 and has also to pay Rs 4929.18 crore due as payment of wages and materials for the financial year 2017-18. Which means that the government will fall short of the budget by more than Rs 2000 crore over the RE 2017-18. It must also be noted that March is one of the peak months when the work is demanded under the scheme.

The number of Schedule Tribe (ST) households working under the MGNREGA has reduced from 92.33 lakhs in 2012-13 to just 81.19 lakhs in 2016-17, pushing out around 11.14 lakh ST households from the scheme. In the same period, Schedule Caste (SC) households working under the scheme has reduced from 1.08 crore to 1.06 crore, pushing out around 2 lakh SC households. A major reason for the SC/ST households opting out of the MGNREGA is the delay in payment of wages and timely allocation of work.

Also, the percentage of ST households getting 100 days of work under the MGNREGA has declined from 11% in 2012-13 to 8.3% in 2016-17, while the percentage of SC households getting 100 days of employment has fallen from 10% to 7.5% during the same period.

If we look at the allocation to MGNREGA as the percentage of GDP, it has actually gone down as compared to previous years. In 2012-13, the expenditure made under the MGNREGA was 0.40% of the GDP, it reduced to 0.29% in 2014-15, the first year of the Modi government. The 2018-19 allocation to MGNREGA at 0.29% of the GDP is lower even from the current government's own expenditure of 0.38% of the GDP under the scheme in 2016-17.

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Source: PIB MoRD, For 2017-19 Author's Own Calculation-Union Budget Document 2018-19

In such a situation the government should have allocated a sum of at least Rs 60,000 crore or more to the MGNREGA scheme.

The Midday Meal Scheme

The Midday Meal Scheme (MDS) is the world's largest school meal programme and is aimed at improving the nutritional status of children in Classes I–VIII in government, local body and government-aided schools. The MDS serves a dual purpose -- it brings more children to the school on regular basis and has been proven to improve the nutritional status of school going children. Given the fact that India has missed the target of reducing the proportion of children suffering from malnutrition and child mortality set under the Millennium Development Goals by a huge margin, it was imperative for the government to increase its focus towards the MDM scheme in terms of budgetary allocation and implementation. The budgetary allocation to the MDM scheme in 2018-19 is Rs 10,500 crore, which is Rs 2715 crore less than the Modi government's allocation of Rs 13215 crore for the scheme in 2014-15.

In 2013-14, 10.79 crore children had benefitted from the MDM scheme. However, the government has provisioned for just 9.83 crore children, under the scheme, in the Budget 2018-19. It will exclude at least 9.6 million children from the MDM scheme, thus depriving them of a nutritious and balanced diet. Even on providing a minimum balanced diet to children, this budget has grossly failed.

Education

Pre-Matric Scholarship for SC Children

The Pre-Matric Scholarship is a scheme to support parents of SC children for the education of their wards studying in Classes IX and X so that school drop outs, especially in the transition from the elementary to the secondary stage, is minimized. The amount spent on the Pre-Matric Scholarship was allocated Rs 507.47 crore in 2016-17, which was reduced to Rs 50 crore in 2017-18 Revised Estimates. In 2018-19, the allocation to the scheme is just at Rs 125 crore, 75% less than what the Modi government's spent under the scheme in 2016-17. This huge reduction in the allocation for SC children is despite the fact that the transition rate of SC students from elementary education is at 87.30% according to MHRD 2014.

Post-Matric Scholarship for SC Students

Post-Matric Scholarship (PMS) is meant to provide financial assistance to SC students to pursue studies in the post-matriculation or post-secondary stage. The allocation for PMS for SCs has declined from Rs 3,348 crore in 2017-18 (RE) to Rs 3000 crore in 2018-19 (BE). This deduction in allocation has come at a time when the Department of Social Justice and Empowerment has been asking for funding to clear accumulated arrears under the scheme amounting to Rs 8,000 crore at the end of 2016-17.

Pre-Matric Scholarship for Minorities

The actual expenditure made under the PMS for minorities was Rs 1016 crore in 2015-16, which was reduced to Rs 369 crores in the years 2016-17. The RE 2017-18 for the scheme is at Rs 1001 crore and in the year 2018-19, just Rs 980 crores has been allocated to the PMS scheme for minority students. Thus there has been a cut of Rs 21 crores 2018-19 allocation to the scheme over the RE of 2017-18.

Adnan Abidi / Reuters
Schoolchildren eat their free mid-day meal, distributed by a government-run primary school at Brahimpur village in Chapra district of Bihar.
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Residential School for Tribal Children

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley announced that in every block with more than 50% of ST population, an Eklavya Model Residential School (EMRS) will be opened by 2022. The scheme has been in place since 1990-91. As of 27.12.2017, a total of 271 EMRS has been sanctioned out of which just 190 were functional and 81 were under construction. The Standing Committee on Social Justice and Empowerment (2017-18), in its report, noted that "most of the EMRSs are not running well, have poor infrastructure besides inadequate teaching staff".

According to Census 2011, there are 520 blocks in India with more than 50% ST population. As there are already 271 sanctioned EMRSs, in the next four years the government needs to open 249 more EMRS at the rate of 50 schools each year. Seeing the previous trend, the target of 50 EMRS per year is less likely to be achieved.

EMRSs are funded under Article 275(1) of the Constitution of India. The budgetary allocation under the proviso to Article 275(1) of the Constitution, has been at Rs 1800 crore in 2018-19 over the 2017-18 allocation of Rs 1500 crore which includes a fund for EMRS, ashram schools, hostels, health, skill development and so on.

In the year 2016-17, Rs 260 crore has been sanctioned for the opening of 19 EMRSs which amounts to Rs 13.68 crore per EMRS on an average. Thus, in the year 2018-19, if 50 EMRSs have to be opened, it will require around Rs 685 crore, which is less likely to be met by the 2018-19 allocation to Article 275(1) of the Constitution. The increase in the allocation of 2018-19 for the scheme over 2017-18 allocation is just Rs 300 crore.

Vanbandhu Kalyan Yojana

The Vanbandhu Kalyan Yoajana, is an umbrella programme for the overall development of STs including critical schemes like Minimum Support Price for Minor Forest Produce, Development of Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups, Development Program in Tribal areas etc. The allocations for this scheme has declined from Rs 505 crore in 2017-18 (BE) to Rs 394 crore in 2017-18 (RE), before increasing to Rs 420 crores in 2018-19 (BE). This reduction is despite the fact that the Tribals have the worst poverty situation among all social groups.

Considering these factors, the Union Budget 2018-19 does not seems to be a budget either for the poor or Dalit's, Adivasi's and the Minorities.

(The opinions expressed in this post are the personal views of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the views of HuffPost India. Any omissions or errors are the author's and HuffPost India does not assume any liability or responsibility for them.)

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