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Union budget shows "no concern" for hunger, malnutrition, rural distress, reduces maternal benefit allocation

F Our Representative
Calling the 2018-19 Union budget "highly disappointing", the top advocacy group, Right to Food Campaign (RFC), in a comprehensive analysis, has said, it has "miserably failed to respond to the present situation of rural distress and mass unemployment", adding, "Despite a spate of starvation deaths in different parts of the country, the budget makes no mention of hunger or malnutrition."
Thus, RFC says, "There was some hope that the budget would be used as an opportunity to expand the Public Distribution System (PDS) to include nutritious food items such as pulses and edible oils. However, there was no such announcement."
It aadds, even though the food subsidy has increased from Rs 1.45 lakh crore in 2017-18 to almost Rs 1.69 lakh crore in 2018-19, an increase of 17%, it "masks reductions in several sub-categories of expenditure". For instance, "the subsidy for decentralised procurement is reduced from Rs 38,000 crore to Rs 31,000 crore", which would "adversely impact poor states such as Chhattisgarh and Odisha that rely on this subsidy."
Similarly, RFC says, "The assistance to state agencies for intra-state movement of foodgrains and fair price shop dealers is slashed from Rs 4,500 crore to Rs 4,000 crore", and its impact would compounded by the "10% increase in diesel prices over the past year."
Pointing out that the Midday Meals budget, increased from Rs 10,000 crore to Rs 10,500 crore, RFC says, it is "not an increase at all when adjusted for inflation", adding, "There is no reflection of any attempts to improve the quality of the meals by including nutrient rich items like eggs, fruits and milk."
While the budget for the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) is up from Rs 15,245 crore to Rs 16,334 crore, RFC says, it includes "an allocation of over Rs 300 crores as ‘management costs for aadhaar enrolment',", underlining, "There are a number of ethical concerns with the coerced enrolment of children by aadhaar, that too with the budget meant for children’s health and nutrition."
At the same time, it notes, "Small children will also suffer from the 36% reduction in the budget for the National Crèche Scheme -- from Rs 200 crore in 2017-18 to Rs 128.4 crore in 2018-19."
Regarding the budgetary allocation for the National Nutrition Mission (Rs 3,000 crore), RFC says, the budget "does not indicate how it will be utilised", adding, "Before expending the funds of this mission, the details have to be made public to ensure transparency, and it should be accompanied by public consultations and deliberations."
Sharply criticizing the government for allocating a mere Rs 2,400 crore in place of of Rs 2,594 crore for the maternity entitlement scheme, Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana, RFC says, "The allocation has gone down in a context where recent data from the Ministry of Women and Child Department shows that there is a huge backlog of applications from last year with only 2% of the eligible women covered until January 2018."
Further, it says, the reduction comes at a time when the government has slashed the benefit from Rs 6000 to Rs 5,000, restricting it to the first birth, adding, "A maternity entitlement scheme as per the National Food Security Act entitlements requires a budget of about Rs 13,000 per pregnant woman. The government should allocate at least 60% of this amount, i.e. Rs 7,800."

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