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'Arbitrary, indiscriminate': budgetary cuts on schemes, programmes for weaker sections

By Bharat Dogra* 

There have been frequent demands in recent times for increasing the budgetary allocations for weaker sections as many of their priority needs are not being met properly. 
Instead of responding sympathetically to these demands, if some of these allocations are cut in arbitrary and indiscriminate ways, then this is bound to increase the distress of weaker sections by midway jeopardizing the implementation of schemes and programs aimed at helping them.
The union government never tires of proclaiming its commitment to tribal people, but if we look at the budgetary allocations made in the previous year 2021-22 for the Ministry of Tribal Welfare, then we realize that the original allocation (or Budget Estimate, or BE) of Rs 7,524 crore was cut to Rs 6,181 crore at the time of preparing the Revised Budget.
As certain fixed expenses have to be met anyway, this big cut of around Rs 1,400 crore must have made a big reduction in welfare benefit reaching the tribal communities.
The livelihood prospects were harmed too. The BE for Institutional Support for Development and Marketing of Tribal Products was Rs 150 crore, but at the time of budget revision, this was reduced to a Revised Estimate ( RE) of Rs 120 crore.
Voluntary organizations have played an important role in helping tribal communities in various ways. Hence an allocation ( BE) of Rs 110 crore was made for Aid to Voluntary Organizations working for welfare of Scheduled Tribes but this was later cut to Rs 90 crore.
There is an Umbrella Programme for Development of Scheduled Tribes. This had a BE during 2021-22 of Rs 4,303 crore but this was later revised downwards to 3,797 crore.
There is an Umbrella Programme also for the Development of Minorities. In this case the budget for the past year was cut from Rs 1,564 crore to Rs 1,373 crore.
There is another Umbrella Program for the Development of Other Vulnerable Groups as well. In this case there was a budget cut from Rs 2,140 crore to Rs 1,930 crore.
If we look at the Ministry of Labour, the Budget for Labour Welfare Scheme was reduced from BE of Rs 150 crore to RE of Rs 119 crore during 2021-22. Even for 2022-23, the allocation has remained confined to Rs. 120 crore. For PM Shram Yogi Maandhan the BE of Rs 400 crore was later reduced to RE of Rs. 350 crore. For PM Karma Yogi Maandhan the BE of Rs 150 crore was reduced amazingly to RE of just Re 1 crore.
What is perhaps most distressing is that the allocation for child labor was reduced to just one fourth of the original allocation. More specifically, in the budget for 1921-22, originally an allocation of Rs 120 crore ( BE) was made for the National Child Labor Project (including grants to voluntary organizations). While preparing the revised estimates, this was cut to just Rs 30 crore (RE). What is more, the allocation for 2022-23 ( BE) for this project has also been kept at this low level of Rs 30 crore.
In the context of another important programme of child welfare Mission Vatsalya (child protection, services of child welfare), during last year the BE of Rs. 900 crore was reduced to RE of Rs 829 crore. The budget for mid-day meals was reduced from BE of Rs. 11,500 crore to RE of Rs 10,233 crore.
In some cases cuts are also visible in the entire departments and ministries devoted to weaker sections
At a time of growing concern over increasing unemployment, it was widely felt that the allocation for the core scheme of Jobs and Skills Development deserves more support, but during 2021-22 its BE of Rs 3,481 crore was also reduced to RE of Rs 2,753 crore.
At a time of decreasing labour participation rate of women and the widely felt need for increasing this, it was considered surprising that the BE of Rs. 48 crore for the Mission for Protection and Empowerment of Women was cut from Rs 48 crore to Rs 10 crore in the Revised estimate ( RE) in 2021-22. The Budget for Mission Shakti ( Protection and Empowerment of Women) was cut from Rs 3,109 crore (BE) to Rs. 2121 crore (RE).
The National Livelihood Programme (Ajeevika) is an important program but even its budget was slashed during 2021-22 from Rs 14,472 crore ( BE) to Rs 12,504 crore (RE).
The budget for National Handloom Development Program was cut during 2021-22 from Rs 220 crore to Rs 180 crore. Yarn supply scheme is important for weavers. Its budget was cut during the same year from Rs 155 crore to Rs 105 crore.
The Budget of the Department of Social justice and Empowerment was cut from Rs 10,517 crore to Rs. 10,180 crore during 2021-22, while the decline in the allocation of its Central Sector Schemes was more steep.
The Budget of the Department of Persons with Disabilities was reduced from Rs 1,171 crore to Rs 1,044 crore during 2021-22.
There is a scheme of Vanchit Ikai Samooh Aur Vargon Ki Arthik Sahayata. This means a scheme for economic assistance to deprived units, groups and classes and is more conveniently named as VISVAS. A budget of Rs 150 crore was allocated for this in 2021-22 but this was reduced to just Rs 20 crore at the time of preparing the Revised Estimate.
Clearly there have been many cases of arbitrary and indiscriminate cuts in schemes and programs meant for weaker sections and this means that in the case of many of these cuts a lot of welfare benefits could not reach people much in need of these. In some cases the cuts made are really big cuts. Cuts have been even made in the case of the core schemes and core of the core schemes.
In some cases cuts are also visible in the entire departments and ministries devoted to weaker sections. Clearly corrective action is needed and such budgetary cuts which are of much distress to weaker sections should be avoided or else kept to the minimum.
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*Honorary convener, Campaign to Protect Earth Now; his recent books include ‘A Day in 2071’, ‘Man over Machine' and ‘When the Two Streams Met'

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