Skip to main content

Social sector allocation in budget down from 34 to 21%, 'injustice' to minorities, children

By Bharat Dogra* 

An important aspect of fiscal policy relates to the extent to which the various welfare needs of people are being met. One important indicator of this are the allocations made for the social sector.
The social sector in the context of the union government of India is generally identified in terms of the following ministries -- Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare, Rural Development, Jal Shakti, Health and Family Welfare ( including Ayush), Education, Labour and Employment, Minority Affairs, Social Justice and Empowerment, Tribal Affairs, Housing and Urban Affairs, Women and Child Development, Youth Affairs and Sports, Environment and Climate Change, Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution (including food subsidy) and, finally, Culture.
If we add the allocation of these ministries we get the allocation for the social sector, broadly speaking. On this basis, we can find out the percentage share of the total budget going to the social sector.
The Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability (CBGA) has carried out such an exercise in its recently published analysis of the union budget 2023-24 -- presented by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in Parliament -- titled "Walking the Tightrope". This analysis has found that there is overall a declining trend in the prioritization of the social sector.
During financial year 2019-20 (pre-COVID) the allocation for the social sector in the total budget was at a modest 23.5% (in terms of actual expenditure). Next year, due largely to the special COVID packages, this rose to 33.5%. Next year, this declined to 26.9%. For the year 2022-23, the actual expenditure is not yet available. However, if we look at the Budget Estimate this declined to 23.5% and if we look at the Revised Estimate the decline was to 24%. In the budget allocation announced for 2023-24 ( Budget Estimate), the decline has gone further than at any other time in the last 4 years to 21.2%.
One way of summarizing this would be to say that from the high of 33.5% in terms of the actual expenditure recorded in 2020-21, the share of social sector in total union government budget has slumped to 21.2% in 2023-24 budget estimate. Another way to summarize would be to say that there is a clear declining trend during the recent times.
This is certainly a worrying trend as there is a clear need for giving higher priority to the social sector to make up for the acute distress, indebtedness and erosion of livelihoods suffered by people during COVID times. In fact if we just compare the 2023-24 allocations with the allocations during the pre-COVID year 2019-20, then also there is a significant decline in the share of the social sector in the union budget from 23.5% in 2019-20 to 21.2% in 2023-24.
As efforts to significantly increase the progressivity of fiscal policy by taxing the richest sections and billionaires to a much higher extent are in any case not being made, the budget size and overall expenditure can increase only to a limited extent. In such a situation, when even the prioritization of the social sector decreases, then there are reasons for serious worry relating to non-availability of funds for important tasks and challenges in the social sector. This trend should be checked, and instead there should be increasing prioritization of social sector in the budget.

Injustice to minorities

At a time when minority communities have been passing through difficult times and need reassurance and support, the union budget has come as a rude jolt for them with its big cuts in allocations for such obvious priorities as education and skills. What is more, as the now available data shows, there were very big cuts in the previous year 2022-23.
These cuts in the previous year as well as huge disruptions faced by informal sector workers and small-scale entrepreneurs due to pandemic related factors had created conditions in which the Ministry of Minority Affairs needed a significant increase in its resources for the year 2023-24, but exactly the reverse has happened.
The original allocation for the Ministry of Minority Affairs (called Budget Estimate or BE) was INR 5020 crore in 2022-23, but this faced a very severe cut to INR 2612 crore when the Revised Estimate (RE) for this year was prepared, a very big cut indeed. In 2023-24 INR 3097 crore has been allocated, which is not only much less than the BE of the previous year, but in fact is even much less than the actual expenditure even of 2021-22, which was placed at INR 4323 crore.
The Umbrella Programme for Development of Minorities has been listed by the government as one of the ‘Core of the Core Schemes’, testifying to the importance of this programme. However this has not spared this programme from being cut heavily. INR 1810 was allocated in the BE for this in 2022-23, but at the time of preparing RE for this programme, this was cut by over two-thirds to just INR 530 crore, making a mockery of the original allocation. Imposing such a heavy cut without any extensive parliamentary or public consultation in a ‘core of the core’ scheme raises serious questions about budgetary ethics and transparency.
Ministry of Minority Affairs allocation was INR 5020 crore in 2022-23, but in 2023-24 it is don to INR 3097 crore
What are supposed to be obvious priorities such as education and skill development have also not been spared at the time of making cuts. In the context of central sector schemes, the allocation for ‘education empowerment’ of minorities was cut from INR 2515 crore to INR 1584 crore during 2022-23 (change from BE to RR) . The allocation for 2023-24 for this is INR is 1689 crore which is less than even the actual expenditure for 2021-22, placed at INR 2249 crore.
The allocation for ‘Skill Development and Livelihoods’ of minorities faced a cut from INR 491 crore in the BE of 2022-23 to RE of INR 330 crore. This has been further cut to an alarming extent in 2023-24 to INR 64 crore. This is less than one one-seventh of the actual expenditure of INR 499 crore in 2021-22 (and here we are not even including the inflationary aspects).
In the context of ‘Special Programmes of Minorities’, there was a cut from BE of INR 53 crore to INR 32 crore in 2022-23. This has been cut further to INR 26 crore in 2023-24.
The only saving grace in 2023-24 appears to be the allocation of INR 540 crore for PM-Virasat ka Samvardhan (PM Vikas). It will be interesting to see how this fund is spent. However this cannot make up for the big cuts in crucial issues like education and skill development.
Clearly various cuts in matters of critical importance for minorities are highly regrettable and the government should already start thinking in terms of upward revision of these allocations.

Children not receiving fair, adequate share

Child development is increasingly seen as the most important part of the development path. This is particularly true of a country like India where nearly a third of the children under 5 years of age are either stunted or underweight ( as per National Family Health Survey ) , or where nearly 32 million children are unable to complete school education. The urgency of prioritizing child development has increased all the more in recent times as a result of the distress and adversity suffered by children due to the special situation created by the pandemic and related lockdowns in which normal education and health needs could not be met, and a further drop of already low learning outcomes from schools was being widely reported.
In such a situation it is disturbing to know that child development is not receiving the desired priority, even in terms of the rather low norms set by the government. According to the National Plan of Action for Children, 2016, at least 5% share of the budget should be allocated for children. However in 2023-24 Union Budget only less than half of this, 2.3% to be more precise, has been allocated.
What is more, as the CBGA) has pointed out in its budget analysis titled ‘Walking the Tightrope’, this share has exhibited a declining trend in recent times. This share, in terms of actual expenditure, was 3% of the union budget in 2019-20 and reached its lowest level of just 1.9% in 2021-22.
Many child specific programmes have suffered from low and stagnating budgets, made worse by cuts made at the time of preparing revised estimates.
In the case of school education, the most important programme of Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan suffered a cut of nearly INR 5200 crore ( one crore=10 million) when the revised estimates for last year 2022-23 were prepared. In the case of the mid-day meals programme, while its name was changed to the heavier sounding Pradhan Mantri Poshan Shakti Nirman, the budget this year is less than the revised estimate of the previous year. For this programme as well as for anganwadis, important reforms have been announced but this is not seen in matching increases in budgets for these programmes, which are stagnating , more or less, and once the impact of inflation is taken into account, there is even some decline in real terms.
The need for increasing allocations for child protection has increased as amidst the increasing deprivation caused by COVID and related lockdowns, incidence of child trafficking and child labour is likely to have increased. Despite this, the allocations for programmes of child protection have faced cuts.
The National Plan of Action for Children sought 5% share of budget, but in the 2023-24 Union Budget it was only 2.3%
Mission Vaatsalya is a programme that combines several child protection and welfare services. The allocation for this scheme this year (2023-24) has remained the same as the previous year, so that after accounting for inflation there is a reduction in real terms. What is more, during the last financial year 2022-23, there was a big reduction of INR 372 crore in this programme from the original allocation of INR 1472 crore to INR 1100 crore.
In the case of the National Child Labour Project the allocation last year was already very low at INR 30 crore, and this year this has been reduced further to INR 20 crore. As INR 77 crore was spent on this project in 2019-20, a clear decreasing trend can be seen. Isn’t reducing child labour a priority for the government? If it is, why is the already low budget being reduced further?
A further dilution of child labour related core work is likely to be caused by the merging of the National Child Labour Project (with its emphasis on identifying hazardous areas of work and removing child workers from there) in the Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan (where the focus is on ensuring that children who are out of school can join school).
Even at the present limited size of the union budget (which is constrained by its inability to tax the richest sections adequately), nearly INR 110,000 crore extra funds can become available for the better health, nutrition, education, welfare and protection of children if the rather conservative norm of allocating at least 5% of the total budget for child related programmes, as recommended in the National Child Action Plan, is followed. Clearly the government is in a position to allocate much more for meeting essential needs of children, even in terms of its own norms, but has failed to do so.
*Honorary convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include ‘Protecting Earth for Children', ‘A Day in 2071’ and ‘Man over Machine'



'Very low rung in quality ladder': Critique of ICMR study on 'sudden deaths' post-2021

By Bhaskaran Raman*  Since about mid-2021, a new phenomenon of extreme concern has been observed throughout the world, including India : unexplained sudden deaths of seemingly healthy and active people, especially youngsters. In the recently concluded Navratri garba celebrations, an unprecedented number of young persons succumbed to heart attack deaths. After a long delay, ICMR (Indian Council for Medical Research) has finally has published a case-control study on sudden deaths among Indians of age 18-45.

SC 'appears to foster' culture of secrecy, does not seek electoral bond details from SBI

By Rosamma Thomas*  In its order of November 2, 2023 on the case of Association for Democratic Reforms vs Union of India contesting constitutional validity of electoral bonds, the Supreme Court directed all political parties to give particulars of the bonds received by them in sealed covers to the Election Commission of India. SC sought that information be updated until September 2023. 

A Hindu alternative to Valentine's Day? 'Shiv-Parvati was first love marriage in Universe'

By Rajiv Shah*   The other day, I was searching on Google a quote on Maha Shivratri which I wanted to send to someone, a confirmed Shiv Bhakt, quite close to me -- with an underlying message to act positively instead of being negative. On top of the search, I chanced upon an article in, imagine!, a Nashik Corporation site which offered me something very unusual. 

Only 12% of schools RTE compliant: Whither 6% budgetary allocation for education?

By Ambarish Rai* Despite Indian state’s commitment of 6% GDP on education, the Finance Minister completely ignored right to education for children and strengthening implementation of RTE Act which makes education a fundamental right in her budget speech . The Right to Education (RTE) Forum, which is a collective of different stakeholders in education, condemns this neglect of a legal entitlement, which is unconstitutional and demand for overall increase in the budget to ensure improvement in learning outcomes and overall enhancement of quality education.

Savarkar in Ahmedabad 'declared' two-nation theory in 1937, Jinnah followed 3 years later

By Our Representative One of the top freedom fighters whom BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi revere the most, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, was also a great supporter of the two nation theory for India, one for Hindus another for Muslims, claims a new expose on the man who is also known to be the original proponent of the concept of Hindutva.

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

Reject WHO's 'draconian' amendments on pandemic: Citizens to Union Health Minister

By Our Representative  Several concerned Indian citizens have written to the Union Health Minister to reject amendments to the International Health Regulations (IHR) of the World Health Organization (WHO) adopted during the 75th World Health Assembly (WHA75) in May 2022, apprehending this will make the signatories surrender their autonomy to the “unelected, unaccountable and the whimsical WHO in case of any future ‘pandemics’.”

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

'Ambiguous policy': India late in advocating EVs as energy storage in national grid

By Shankar Sharma*  This is regarding the points raised by the Chief Electricity Authority’s (CEA's) advocacy for usage of electrical vehicles (EVs) as energy storage technology, and few associated issues . An objective reading of what he states should reiterate the enormously growing importance of battery energy storage systems (BESS) in our need to transition to a net-zero carbon scenario for the country.

Union Health Ministry, FSSAI 'fail to respond' to NHRC directive on packaged food

By Our Representative  The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has expressed deep concern over the adverse health effects caused by packaged foods high in salt, sugar, and saturated fats. Recognizing it as a violation of the Right to Life and Right to Health of Indian citizens, the quasi-judicial body called for a response from the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) regarding its selection of front-of-pack labels aimed at providing consumers with information to make healthier choices.