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Gross 'injustice' to children: Rs 5000 cr cut in education budget; 15 lakh schools shut down

Counterview Desk 

More than 100 dignitaries, including educationists, academia, social activists, teachers’ union, civil society organisations (CSOs), various networks and people working on child rights, in a letter to Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman have sought reversal of reduction in allocation for education in the Union Budget 2021-22, even as demanding substantial increase in it.
Sent by the Right to Education (RTE) Forum, and endorsed by Alliance for Right to ECD, Wada Na Todo Abhiyan, National Coalition for Education (NCE) India, Oxfam India, Save the Children India, CARE India, Campaign against Child Marriage, and the Center for Social Equity, the letter regrets that, instead of living up to expectations for a hefty rise in the provision in the budget, the budget provides for an amount of Rs 54,874 crore for school education as compared to Rs 59,845 crores in 2020-21 -- a cut of nearly Rs 5000 crore.
It says, the allocation for Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan targeting elementary and secondary education has been reduced from Rs 38,751 crore to Rs. 31,050 crore, a cut of Rs 7,701 crore; and the allocation for the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) -- the flagship and only programme of the Government of India for supporting the protection, health and education of children -- has been reduced from Rs 28,557 crore to Rs 21,005 crore.
According to the letter, “With the closure of 1.5 million schools, an overwhelming majority of the children going to school, especially from the poor and the marginalized families, have been deprived of schooling for a full year and have been pushed into labour force, house work and worse still, to child trafficking.”
Pointing out that in this situation, the girls have been “particularly hard hit, with pressure for marriage, increased domestic work, trafficking and violence”, the letter states, “Childline (children’s helpline) registered a 17% increase in distress calls relating to pressure for early marriage of girls in June and July 2020, as compared to 2019.”
“Further”, it adds, “With large scale migration of families, hundreds of thousands of children have been uprooted from their schools and communities. A sharp drop in the employment and incomes of a very large section of the population, has affected parents’ ability to spend on education.”
Quoting Unicef data, the letter says, the closure of schools has impacted 247 million children enrolled in elementary and secondary schools and 28 million getting pre-school education in anganwadi centres, which were also closed, 24 million learners from pre-primary to tertiary education risk not finding their way back to their schools in 2021 when they are expected to open. On top of this, it says, over 40 million children are chronically malnourished.
“According to a World Bank estimate, the learning loss caused by the Pandemic will cost India $400 billion in reduced earnings, an amount likely to be more if additional funds are not allocated to support public education”, it adds.
The signatories on the letter include Prof Muchkund Dubey, Former Foreign Secretary and President, Council for Social Development, New Delhi; Shantha Sinha, former chairperson, The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights; Prof R Govinda, former vice-chancellor National Institute of Educational Planning and Administration; Prof Praveen Jha, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi; Ambarish Rai, National Convener, RTE Forum; among others.

Text:

We, the undersigned members of civil society organisations, educationists, academics and people working for children’s right to education are deeply disappointed by the cut effected in the outlay for school education in the Union Budget, 2021-22, tabled in the Parliament on February 1, 2021. Given the pitiable condition of school education in the country and the shocks administered to it by the coronavirus pandemic, we were expecting a hefty rise in the provision in the budget for school education. This was essential for accomplishing the remaining tasks of implementing the RTE Act, for compensating for the loss suffered in 2020 and for bringing each of the children of India back to school in a safe and child-friendly environment.
Instead of living up to this expectation, the budget provides for an amount of Rs 54,874 crore for school education as compared to Rs 59,845 crore in the estimate for 2020-21 (a cut of nearly Rs 5,000 crore). The allocation for Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan targeting elementary and secondary education, has been reduced from Rs 38,751 crore in the budget estimate for 2020-21 to Rs 31,050 crore in the estimate for the year 2021-22 (a cut of Rs. 7,701 crores). The allocation for the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) -- the flagship and only programme of the Government for supporting the protection, health and education of children -- has been reduced from Rs 28,557 crore in 2020-21 (BE) to Rs 21,005 crores in 2021-22 (BE).
There were several pending urgent tasks relating to the implementation of the RTE Act, demanding the immediate attention of the Government through the provision of additional budgetary resources. These were: bringing to school an estimated 3.4 crores of children who were out of school. (NSSO data for 2017-18), putting in place the infrastructure mandated in the RTE Act, filling in the massive teacher vacancies, and providing the teachers, pre-service and in-service training.
The pandemic aggravated these problems and piled up new ones. There are many studies and reports of international agencies which show that the vulnerability of school going children has increased manifold during the period of the lockdown. 
With the closure of 1.5 million schools, an overwhelming majority of the children going to school, especially from the poor and the marginalized families, have been deprived of schooling for a full year and have been pushed into labour force, house work and worse still, to child trafficking. In this situation, the girls have been particularly hard hit, with pressure for marriage, increased domestic work, trafficking and violence. 
Childline (children’s helpline) registered a 17% increase in distress calls relating to pressure for early marriage of girls in June and July 2020, as compared to 2019 (a BBC report). Further, with large scale migration of families, hundreds of thousands of children have been uprooted from their schools and communities. A sharp drop in the employment and incomes of a very large section of the population, has affected parents’ ability to spend on education.
To cite a few figures, the closure of schools has impacted 247 million children enrolled in elementary and secondary schools and 28 million getting pre-school education in Anganwadi Centres which were also closed (UNICEF), 24 million learners from pre-primary to tertiary education risk not finding their way back to their schools in 2021 when they are expected to open (UNESCO). 
In India, over 40 million children are chronically malnourished, the pandemic has further exposed the fragility of the conditions of these children, (UNICEF) less by the virus itself, but much more by its indirect effect arising out of loss of employment and incomes. According to a World Bank estimate, the learning loss caused by the pandemic will cost India $400 billion in reduced earnings, an amount likely to be more if additional funds are not allocated to support public education.
The Right to Education (RTE) Forum, in its memorandum submitted during the course of the pre-budget consultation with the Finance Minister, emphasized that budgetary provisions had to be made to meet the challenges of getting every child back to school by improving the school infrastructure which had been in disuse for months, restoring hygiene with adequate water and toilet facilities, supporting measures for children who were in need of remedial classes to recover from learning loss due to being away from schools for months together, resuming the provision of mid-day meals which should now include breakfast, as recommended in the New Education Policy (NEP) 2020, and which should be extended to cover children in secondary schools. It was underlined that if these measures were not adopted and budgetary provisions for these not made, the vast majority of the children of the Dalits, Adivasis and other marginalised communities & those living in poverty, of persons with disabilities and girls in each of these categories, would be left out of the educational stream and would not be able to enjoy their fundamental right to education.
Closure of schools has impacted 247 million school children schools and 28 million getting pre-school education
We are firmly of the view that vastly enhanced level of investment in the social sectors, particularly education will be of immense benefit to the economy and society. This will create by way of providing additional employment, the much needed additional demand to propel the economy on a higher growth trajectory. It will help in building social infrastructure necessary for ensuring sustainable growth. 

The gestation period for investment in social infrastructure is likely to be much shorter than that for building physical infrastructure which we concede, is equally important for accelerating and sustaining growth. Investment in education is the most effective way of realizing the objectives laid down in the Indian Constitution of equity, justice and democracy. The experience of most of the developed countries and a number of emerging economies bears testimony to this fact.
Budgetary provisions for education need to be enhanced substantially also to meet the requirements of the States which are principally responsible for education, particularly school education. The generally fragile and precarious financial position of the states and the local governments have been aggravated by the pandemic. Unlike the Centre, they cannot resort to deficit financing; nor can they fall back upon educational cess as a measure of raising additional revenues. 
It is, therefore, incumbent upon the Centre to compensate the states for the revenue loss suffered by them during the pandemic. The best way to do it would have been to directly transfer resources to financially vulnerable states and local governments. The first step towards this in India will be for the Centre to raise its share for financing centrally sponsored schemes.
India as a country and successive governments in power at the Centre have for a long time been reiterating the objective of achieving the public expenditure target of devoting 6 per cent of GDP to education. The reaffirmation of this objective in the NEP 2020 has given rise to the hope that at long last, this long pending target has a chance of being achieved. For this purpose, the Government should include in the budget for this year a clear fiscal roadmap leading to reaching the target within a specified time period, say five years.
We wish to reiterate that the cut made in the budgetary spending on education in the face of the dire need to substantially enhance it is a gross injustice to the children of our country, who have already suffered immensely. If the budget proposals are not revisited and the cuts are not reversed, these children will not be able to exercise their right to education and the nation will suffer in the long run because of the resultant accentuation of poverty, inequality and mass scale wastage of precious human resources.
We, therefore, urge you to reconsider the proposed budgetary allocation for education with a view to substantially revising it upwards and take the other measures outlined in this statement.
---
Click here for signatories

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