Experts say social sector may be victim of inadequate budget
Kolkata, Feb 12: Lack of policy directions for ensuring quality implementation of programmes makes the Union Budget 2017-18 allocations to ailing core social sectors like education and health inadequate in delivering the benefits, experts say.
Schemes like Swachh Bharat-Urban and the National Social Assistance Programme saw no increase, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan got a mere 4.4 per cent rise in allocation, while the Integrated Child Development Services got an enhancement of about five per cent.
Even though programmes like Swachh Bharat-Rural and the National Health Mission got a double-digit hike in percentage terms, the experts said the Budget was "disappointing" and "unsatisfactory", considering the ground realities.
"The Budget is disappointing. It paid no attention to the effective implementation of the Right to Education Act. A mere increase in the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan by Rs 1,000 crore is not going to help in meaningful implementation of the RTE Act," Right To Education Forum Convenor Ambarish Rai told IANS.
He said only 9.5 per cent schools are RTE compliant across the country after almost seven years after the act being implemented.
"Low allocation has been affecting the quality of education in government schools, where over five lakh teachers posts are vacant. At least 6.4 lakh teachers are untrained," Rai said, pointing out the Human Resource Development Ministry budget has remained stagnant at 3.7 per cent of the total budget.
Ten per cent of the schools have single teachers, 30 per cent are without functional toilets for girls and 20 per cent do not provide safe drinking water, he said.
K.J. Nath, former Director of the All India Institute of Hygiene and Public Health, said while the Health and Family Welfare Ministry has received a welcome jump of 23 per cent this year at Rs 48,852 crore, the resource cut in Urban Health Mission to Rs 752 crore from Rs 950 crore in the previous budget was "unsatisfactory".
"The budget announced a target of eliminating kala-azar and filariasis by 2017, leprosy by 2018, measles by 2020 and tuberculosis by 2025. But where are the budgetary resources to reach these targets," Nath asked.
The budget allocation for the health sector as a share of the GDP is less than one per cent, which falls far short of meeting the long-standing demand of upping the this to over two per cent, he complained.
Citing an example of how the resource crunch has crippled the implementation of programmes, Nath, Chairman of West Bengal's Arsenic Task Force, told IANS: "The central government recently revised the permissible limit of arsenic to 0.01 milligram per litre of water from 0.05 milligram per litre as per the guidelines of the World Health Organization, which is good. But since due to a fund shortage we faced challenges in maintaining the earlier limit, it would be a daunting task to meet the revised standard."
"The Union Budget has neither provided a policy direction for ensuring quality delivery mechanism in public healthcare services, nor offered a widespread market-oriented training in the education sector," Jadavpur University economics Professor Ajitava Roychaudhuri said.
He, however, welcomed the proposal for launching the Rs 4,000 crore Skill Acquisition and Knowledge Awareness for Livelihood Promotion programme which intends to provide market-friendly training to 3.5 crore youth.
Sectors like small and medium industries and real estate -- which were severely hit by the government's demonetisation exercise -- got some policy measures but that was not the case with the social sector.
Roychaudhuri said one reason could be that the sector does not provide a "short-term multiplier effect" to boost economic growth despite its long-term positive impact.
"After demonetisation, the government's short-term goal is to revive economic growth. Real estate and infrastructure sectors can provide a positive short-term multiplier effect that can push up growth in the near-term, but the social sector cannot offer such multiplier impact in the short-run. It has a long-term positive impact on economic growth," he said.
Again, though the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act scheme received the highest allocation ever at Rs 48,000 crore from the previous year's Rs 38,500 crore, this is only one per cent more than the revised estimate of Rs 47,499 crore for 2016-17.
"In that sense, the increase in allocation was meagre. The job scheme should have got more allocation, particularly when the demand in the economy remains subdued. Higher employment and better income under the programme could give an impetus to demand in the economy," Raychaudhuri noted.