This Is How The Finance Minister Turned A Blind Eye To India’s Children In This Budget

Posted on March 2, 2016 in Business and Economy, Society

By Farhana Yasmin and Kumar Shailabh:

Children with their containers are silhouetted against the sun as they wait to fill drinking water from a water tanker provided by the state-run Delhi Jal (water) Board on a hot summer day in New Delhi, India, May 11, 2015. Temperature in Delhi on Monday reached 42.3 degree Celsius (108.14 degree Fahrenheit), according to India's metrological department website. REUTERS/Anindito Mukherjee - RTX1CFYJ
Image Credit: Reuters/Anindito Mukherjee.

Amidst the global economic slowdown, Mr. Arun Jaitley in his Budget Speech indicated that India’s economy is stable and the GDP has accelerated to a commendable 7.6 per cent growth. On 29th February 2016, the NDA-led government presented its third Union Budget. In his Budget Speech, the Finance Minister mentioned that the “Plan Allocations have given special emphasis to sectors like agriculture, irrigation, social sector including health, women and child development, welfare of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, minorities, infrastructure, etc.” But HAQ Centre For Child Rights’ analysis of the Union Budget through children’s perspective shows otherwise.

Before delving deeper into the analysis of the Budget, it is pertinent to note that children, in particular, did not find any mention in the Budget Speech. This compels one to question the Government’s perspective of ‘Inclusive Growth’ when one of the most marginalised and vulnerable sections get no attention at all.

This year, children received 3.32 per cent share [as per Statement 22 of Expenditure Budget Volume I] of the total financial allocations, which is a significant 13.54 percent jump from the previous year’s allocation (3.26 percent in 2014-15).

While this is a welcome increase in the overall budget for children, there are major reductions in some of the key programmes related to children belonging to minorities like ‘Pre-Matric Scholarship for Minorities’ (reduced by 10.48%), ‘Post Matric Scholarship for Minorities’ (reduced by 5.19%), ‘Scheme for Providing Education to Madrassas/Minorities’ (reduced by 68.04%), ‘Incentive to Children of Vulnerable Groups among Schedule Castes’ (reduced by 90%).

What is more, one of the two schemes addressing the needs of children with disabilities, ‘Deendayal Disabled Rehabilitation Scheme’ saw a significant 25 percent reduction against the previous year’s allocation. While the nation is high on dreams of smart cities, GDP growth, digital literacy in rural India, Make in India, Startup India, with such reduced financial resources, would the children belonging to minorities or children with disabilities be included in this dream of ‘Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas’?

Mr. Jaitley, in his Budget Speech mentioned that “after universalisation of primary education throughout the country, we want to take the next big step forward by focusing on the quality of education.” And yet, we see a mere 2.27 percent increase in funds allocated for the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan. This face-value increase must be examined in the light of findings of Economic Survey 2015-16. As per the Survey, there is a declining trend in the percentage of enrolment in government schools in rural areas from 72.9 percent in 2007 to 63.1 percent in 2014 and it emphasised upon the need to increase the percentage of enrolment substantially to achieve universalization of education. Can a mere 2.27% increase in the SSA budget from the previous year help address both decline in enrolment in government schools and improved quality of primary education?

Further, last year, the NDA government had announced the ‘Scheme for Setting up 6000 Model schools at block level as benchmark of excellence’ with great pride. It took just a year for the government to revisit its decision, and hence, no more model schools in 2016-17.

As against a 21.8% decline in the child health allocations last year, this year witnesses an increase of 3.6%. But, as a proportion of the Union Budget, it has declined from 0.13% in 2015-16 to 0.12% in 2016-17. The 2015-16 Economic Survey clearly notes that “while the achievements of the National Health Mission in reaching affordable healthcare services must be applauded, the need of universal healthcare, both in terms of access and quality remains a cause of concern.” As a share of the Union Budget, child health has seen a consistent decline over the last five years, going down from 0.18% in 2012-13 to 0.12% in 2016-17, showing the low priority accorded to this over the years. Right to health as a fundamental right remains a distant dream.

Another flagship scheme related to young children, the ‘Integrated Child Development Scheme’ (ICDS) has seen a boost of 68% against previous year’s allocation. This scheme has been allocated a total sum of Rs. 14,000 Crore. Though such an increase must be applauded, the mission document of ICDS has fixed a total requirement of Rs. 30,325 crore for universalisation of this scheme. There is still a huge shortfall of Rs. 16,325 crore, which must not be ignored. The allocation for ICDS must be seen in the context of restructuring of ICDS which needs additional investment with additional provisions in the system for covering children who get left out (e.g. migrants, transients). This will also necessitate revisiting the provisions for reaching underserved and unreached tribal settlements which may require specific budgetary allocations.

The only scheme related to child labour in Statement 22 is the ‘Scheme for the Welfare of Working Children in Need of Care and Protection’ observed a decrease of 70 percent in allocation in the 2016-17 Union Budget. It must be noted that India is home to 12.6 million child labourers (Census 2011) in the age group of 5-14 years.

Not only does the child protection sector remain the most under-resourced, the 2016-17 budget clearly does not offer much solace with the allocation for Integrated Child Protection Scheme (ICPS) down by 1.3%. ICPS has been allocated Rs. 397 Crore in 2016-17. The allocation was Rs. 402.23 Crore in the 2015-16 Budget. An increase in both crimes against children and by children make them even more vulnerable, and hence, this lack of attention to child protection is very disconcerting.

The Finance Minister seems to have already forgotten the warning from the Economic Survey 2015-16 which stated that “India is already halfway through its demographic dividend, and taking full advantage requires a healthy and educated population.”

What is more, the government seems to have forgotten its own commitment to inclusive growth. A mere increase from 3.26% to 3.32% cannot be a call for celebration when children remain unprotected and uncared for.