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Despite pandemic, allocation for education down from 3.8% to 2.27%: RTE Forum meet

By Our Representative 

The right to education is linked to right to life, a constitutional obligation. The Covid-19 pandemic and consequent government policies, however, have led to a steady violation of this right for children belonging to the marginalised community. The Union budget 2021 has only made things worse. This was the crux of discussions in a webinar organised by the Right to Education (RTE) Forum, in which over 300 activists participants.
Ambarish Rai, national convener, RTE Forum, said, the Union budget does not do justice to children, and despite the ravages of the pandemic, there was poor allocation for education. In fact, this year’s allocation on education is nearly 6.1 per cent lower than that of the previous year.
Only Rs 93,324 crore has been allocated this year as compared to Rs 99,312 crore allocated in the previous financial year, Rai said, adding, it is shocking that the government is not providing sufficient budget to undo the adverse effects of the pandemic and ensure every child returns to school.
Furthermore, Rai asserted, the girls have been disproportionately impacted in the pandemic, which has made them vulnerable to early marriages, child labour, trafficking and violence. Yet, they have been completely neglected in the budget.
The National Scheme for Incentive to Girls for Secondary Education has witnessed severe budget cuts from Rs 110 crore last year to a merely Rs 1 crore this year, Rai stated, regretting, the demand for adequate public spending for the implementation of the RTE Act and its extension to 3-18 years has again been ignored.
Prof Muchkund Dubey, former foreign secretary, currently president, Council for Social Development, New Delhi, giving a historical overview of the evolution of the RTE movement, said that governments all through have displayed similar attitudes towards the education sector.
The Kothari Commission’s recommendation that 6% of GDP be allocated towards the sector has become a statement that is repeated by every important committee like a ritual. It has not fructified in any measure, Dubey said, adding, the only time there was an effort to even calculate the cost of universalising school education was under the Deve Gowda-led United Front government, which set up the Tapas Majumdar committee. The costs worked out then, between Rs 55,000 crore and Rs 72,000, were of immense magnitude, but thereafter this was brushed under the carpet.
With the pandemic causing great damage to the schooling sector, there was expectation that the budget would attempt to compensate it. A new education policy was announced last year. Yet, said Dr Protiva Kundu of the Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability (CBGA), the expectation has been belied.
It’s not only about Rs 6,000 crore budget reduction (6.1% decrease). What is alarming is the steadily declining share of the education sector in the overall Union budget in the last few years. In 2015-16, the percentage allocation for education in budget was 3.8%. It has been reduced in 2021-22 to 2.27%, one of the lowest in recent years, she said.
Worse, the Union Budget has made no reference to the damages caused to the education sector due to the pandemic, said to Prof Govinda, former vice chancellor of the National Institute of Educational Planning and Administration (NIEPA).
There is enough data suggesting massive drop-out. The RTE Forum has also collected data that show how child labour, child marriage and child abuse have increased on account of the pandemic. How can the Government of India remain so blind to ground reality and distress that education has gone through one year?, wondered Prof Govinda. This year’s budget talks about digital architecture; however, that does not improve the situation in primary schools.
Prof Praveen Jha from the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) said, Covid-19 has impacted the livelihood of 70-80% of people, and due to school closures, children have been left out of the purview of education. This is deeply distressing.
Dr. Sukanya Bose, faculty, National Institute of Public Finance and Policy (NIPFP), said, the Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan has created a structure aimed at reaching down to the cluster level. However, the Abhiyan’s funding has been reduced. The special training centre under for out-of-school children under the scheme needs heavy investment to bring out of school children back to schools.

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