Soon after the Budget was presented in the Parliament on February 29, Prime Minister Narendra Modi described its provisions as pro-poor, pro-farmer and pro-village. But two weeks on, seven grassroots campaigns working on the right to food, public health, education, sanitation, and the rural employment guarantee programme said that the Budget will fail to sustain existing welfare schemes.
In fact, when accounting for price rises and inflation, funds for vital programmes would actually be cut in real terms, they claimed.
To begin with, they said that the budget for food rations has actually decreased slightly, from Rs. 1.39 lakh crores in the revised estimates for 2015-'16 to Rs. 1.34 lakh crores in the 2016-'17 Budget estimates.
Several other programmes will also be curtailed, activists claimed. Dipa Sinha, an activist with the Alliance for Early Child Development, said that though the Modi government had for the first time introduced a chapter on mothers and children’s welfare in the Economic Survey document, it has actually cut the outlay for the Integrated Child Development Scheme, under which supplementary nutrition is provided to vulnerable children, and pregnant and lactating women.
The budget for the scheme was reduced from Rs 15,300 crore in revised estimates for last year to Rs 14,000 crore in this budget. “A few weeks back, the government took credit for increasing maternity leave for women in the organised sector, but it failed to provide funds for the universal maternity benefit of Rs 6,000 meant for women working in the unorganised sector under the National Food Security law,” said Sinha.
Clean India plans
Bezwada Wilson, the national convener of the Safaai Karamchari Andolan, said that a five-year outlay of Rs 4,656 crore in 2013 to rehabilitate manual scavengers was reduced to Rs 10 crores in the current Budget. He said that as per the Socio Economic Caste Census, there are 1.5 lakh manual scavengers who clean dry latrines in India. But the fund outlay of Rs 10 crore would not be adequate to rehabilitate even 70% of them as per existing government provisions.
“When I asked the officials in the Ministry for Social Justice about the reasons for these cuts, they say, the previous years’ funds remained unused,” said Wilson. “Whose responsibility is it to implement the programme and use the funds, I asked them.”
Wilson added: "All the Budget provides for is building more and more toilets under Swachch Bharat, but it lacks any adequate provisions for those cleaning toilets for 5,000 years.”
Dr Vandana Prasad, of Jan Swasthya Abhiyan, noted that public health programmes would also suffer. Spending for the National Health Mission will rise a little – from Rs.19,135.37 crore in 2015-'16 year to Rs 19,437 for 2016-'17. But this would actually represent a fall in per capita allocation, given the increase in population and price rises.
“The government has focused its health budget on increasing health insurance and for dialysis schemes, both of which will open doors only for private sector profits,” she added.
Ambarish Rai of the Right to Education Forum said the government’s outlay 2016-'17 of Rs. 43, 554 crore is insufficient to make up for the shortfall of 9.4 lakh teachers and shortage of infrastructure in government schools. “The government’s focus is on switching to vocational education,” said Rai. “We met the finance minister in January and pointed out the good performance of Navodaya and Kendriya Vidyalaya to ask for more such schools, but in the budget the finance ministry has provided for only 62 new Navodaya Vidyalaya all over India.”
Flaws in Aadhaar
Social activists associated with these programmes also expressed concern about the provisions of the Aadhaar Bill (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) 2016, which was passed by the Lok Sabha last week.
The Aadhaar Bill seeks to assign a biometrics-based identity number to the beneficiaries of all public schemes. But Kavita Srivastava, an activist with People’s Union for Civil Liberties and the Right to Food campaign that works on the implementation of the National Food Security law, said that the Bill would not solve the problem of leakages in government programmes.
She said the government has refused to take into consideration the fact that several state governments such as Chhattisgarh, Odisha have reformed programmes such as the ration system, and NREGA, and reduced leakages without relying on Aadhaar. “Making Aadhaar mandatory, as the Bill does, will leave out the elderly, disabled and children even more vulnerable because typically they are the ones who are also excluded from the Aadhaar,” she said.