social security net

Budget outlays too small to effectively run welfare schemes, say social activists

Activists also challenge the government's proposal to make Aadhaar mandatory for social schemes.

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.”

Health costs

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.

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On New Year’s Day, 1962, Dick Rowe, the official talent scout for Decca Records, went to office, little realising that this was to become one of the most notorious days in music history. He and producer Mike Smith had to audition bands and decide if any were good enough to be signed on to the record label. At 11:00 am, either Rowe or Smith, history is not sure who, listened a group of 4 boys who had driven for over 10 hours through a snowstorm from Liverpool, play 15 songs. After a long day spent listening to other bands, the Rowe-Smith duo signed on a local group that would be more cost effective. The band they rejected went on to become one of the greatest acts in musical history – The Beatles. However, in 1962, they were allegedly dismissed with the statement “Guitar groups are on the way out”.

Source: Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

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Source: Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Few military blunders are as monumental as Napoleon’s decision to invade Russia. The military genius had conquered most of modern day Europe. However, Britain remained out of his grasp and so, he imposed a trade blockade against the island nation. But the Russia’s Czar Alexander I refused to comply due to its effect on Russian trade. To teach the Russians a lesson, Napolean assembled his Grand Armée – one of the largest forces to ever march on war. Estimates put it between 450,000 to 680,000 soldiers. Napoleon had been so successful because his army could live off the land i.e. forage and scavenge extensively to survive. This was successful in agriculture-rich and densely populated central Europe. The vast, barren lands of Russia were a different story altogether. The Russian army kept retreating further and further inland burning crops, cities and other resources in their wake to keep these from falling into French hands. A game of cat and mouse ensued with the French losing soldiers to disease, starvation and exhaustion. The first standoff between armies was the bloody Battle of Borodino which resulted in almost 70,000 casualties. Seven days later Napoleon marched into a Moscow that was a mere shell, burned and stripped of any supplies. No Russian delegation came to formally surrender. Faced with no provisions, diminished troops and a Russian force that refused to play by the rules, Napolean began the long retreat, back to France. His miseries hadn’t ended - his troops were attacked by fresh Russian forces and had to deal with the onset of an early winter. According to some, only 22,000 French troops made it back to France after the disastrous campaign.

Source: Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

When it comes to sports, few long time Indian cricket fans can remember the AustralAsia Cup final of 1986 without wincing. The stakes were extremely high – Pakistan had never won a major cricket tournament, the atmosphere at the Sharjah stadium was electric, the India-Pakistan rivalry at its height. Pakistan had one wicket in hand, with four runs required off one ball. And then the unthinkable happened – Chetan Sharma decided to bowl a Yorker. This is an extremely difficult ball to bowl, many of the best bowlers shy away from it especially in high pressure situations. A badly timed Yorker can morph into a full toss ball that can be easily played by the batsman. For Sharma who was then just 18 years old, this was an ambitious plan that went wrong. The ball emerged as a low full toss which Miandad smashed for a six, taking Pakistan to victory. Almost 30 years later, this ball is still the first thing Chetan Sharma is asked about when anyone meets him.

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