By Akhila Nagar:
A famous anonymous quote often makes rounds whenever the issue of how children are placed in the ‘adult scheme of things’ comes up – “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.” Ostensibly about environmental conservation, the quote perfectly sums up the faults in the economic distribution and redistribution in India today. It seems that the government has forsaken the quality of human life for numbers. What we look at when we talk of economic growth are ideas through an extremely tunnelled lens: 8-8.5% GDP growth, Rs. 2.46 trillion for defence spending, around 2% increase in service tax rate – it’s all about the numbers. While the Union Budget has been announced and is being discussed, 90% of the children from poor households remain illiterate, the infant mortality rate remains high, and the child sex ratio remains skewed. Yet, the Union Budget does nothing to serve the children of this nation.
As Komal Ganotra, Director of Policy Research and Advocacy at CRY (Child Rights and You), puts it – “The budget is definitely a blow to the child rights sector, because the centre has reduced its role and stake in financing for the sector, specifically education and ICDS (Integrated Child Development Services), but this comes along with a changed pattern of the distribution of taxes between the centre and the state. The report of the 14th finance commission has recommended a greater share of taxes to go to the state governments; meaning that they shall have greater resources at their end to finance the social sector schemes. This has still to roll out, and therefore, there is a lot of ambiguity about what it would mean for the financial resources for children. As of today, the children stand at a serious loss, and we need to strengthen our voice as a sector for the same.”
A country that proclaims to work towards becoming a regional, and possibly, even a world superpower, cannot ignore 440 million of its citizens. A child, whose early stages of life should be wholesome and fulfilling, heads directly into the realms of poverty, illiteracy, child labour, and a lot more. Every year, one hopes to see some concrete steps taken by the elected representatives, something to change the condition of the children in our country. And yet again, the Union Budget of 2015-16 has just proved to be another disappointment.
According to Komal, “In 2015-16, only 0.41 percent of GDP has been earmarked for the children who constitute more than 40 percent of the population of India. However, the ministry explains that this decline is on account of the enhanced devolution of Union Taxes to State as recommended by the Fourteenth Finance Commission (FFC). Consequent to the acceptance of the FFC award, plan outlay of the Union has come down. However, to keep the Budget for such programs unchanged, states are to contribute from their enhanced resources. It is estimated that any shortfall in the Schemes for the Welfare of Children on account of the FFC award will be made up by the states from their enhanced resources. Therefore, the total resources available for the Schemes for the Welfare of Children will remain unaffected.”
Adding on to this, here are some of the highlights of the Budget, in terms of its provisions for children:
• Total Child Budget has declined substantially in both absolute amount and proportion of the Total Union Budget. In proportion to Total Expenditure of the Union Government, Total Child Budget has declined from 4.52 percent in 2014-15 (BE) to 3.26 percent in 2015-16 (BE). In absolute terms, child budget has decreased from Rs. 81075.26 crore in 2014-15 (BE) to Rs. 57918.51 crore in 2015-16 (BE).
• Child Education gets 79.0 percent, followed by Child Development, which gets 15.2 percent. Child Health and Child Protection get a share of only 3.9 percent and 1.8 percent. Compared to the previous year, the total resources earmarked for Children has become more skewed in favour of education.
• The Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), allocation has declined from Rs. 18195 crore in 2014-15 (BE) to Rs. 8335.77 crore in 2015-16 (BE). In the Integrated Child Protection Scheme (ICPS), the allocation has increased only by Rs. 2.23 crore as compared to the previous budget.
• The allocation to Sarva Siksha Abhiyan has declined by over 20 percent, whereas the allocation to the Mid day meal scheme has been reduced from Rs. 13215 crore (BE in 14 – 15) to just Rs. 9236 crore.
• The ongoing scheme for setting up of 6000 model schools at the block level, with Rs. 3433 crore utilizations from 2010-11 to 2013-14, and an allocation of Rs. 1200 crore in 2014-15 BE, has been delinked from the support from the Centre in the present Budget. This means that the States wishing to continue investing in these schools would have to reallocate amounts from their increased resources resulting from the recommendations of the 14th Finance Commission.
• The status of a specific scheme launched last year for support to Educational Development including teacher training and adult education, with an allocation of Rs. 1250 crore, remains ambiguous. The 2015-16 Budget documents show that no spending was done from this allocated sum, and in the 2015-16, no amount has been allocated against this scheme. Yet, the ministry has retained this scheme in the list of the schemes that will be fully supported by the Union Government
• In the Scheme for providing education to Madrassas/Minorities, allocations have increased from Rs. 275 crore in 2014-15 BE to Rs. 375 crore 2015-16 BE.
• The Finance Minister expects that some additional tax resources could be generated in this fiscal year. If that happens, an additional amount of Rs. 1500 crore and Rs. 500 crore could be allocated for ICDS and ICPS respectively. But, this is totally uncertain and depends on how the economy behaves in the coming fiscal year.
Just because children can’t vote, doesn’t mean their welfare is not important. “We believe that children are of utmost importance not because they are the torch bearers of the future, but they are citizens of today…their present is as important as their future…and just because they are not voters…they cannot be ignored”, Komal points out. It is the government’s duty to understand this. The first step is including children’s rights in the Budget. Let us hope that the government recognizes this sooner than later, and that the next budget truly ensures proper care for each and every citizen of the country, children included.