Social sector gets lip service

Social sector gets lip service

This year’s Budget speech began with a vision to ‘transform India’ through nine distinct pillars. The third pillar spoke about on the social sector including healthcare. However, a deeper look at numbers suggests a tinkering around the edges without substantial reform.

But first, the good news. Social sector programs have long needed reform.

Restructuring Centrally Sponsored Schemes (CSS) into 30 by grouping schemes into “Missions” such as the National Education Mission (NEM), the removal of artificial distinctions between plan and non-plan, emphasis on outcome orientation, are important first steps. This year’s revised estimates being equal or above budget estimates is again a positive sign given the history of low releases and expenditures. However, budget announcements don’t always translate to action. The devil will lie in these details – which, naturally, the budget speech is not the best medium to articulate. 

However, the Budget is about priorities, and funding commitments: so let’s look at the numbers. The speech referred to education, health and sanitation as key areas. However, a comparison of this year’s estimates with revised estimates for 2015-16 suggests modest increases. For example, the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan budget increased by 2 per cent, the Midday meal scheme by 5 per cent and the National Health Mission by 2 per cent. Despite outlining the importance of Swachh Bharat, allocations increased only 1 per cent compared to the supplementary budgets which had been passed during 2015-16. This year has been one of rural distress and thus there were high expectation of increases in MGNREGS. The increase of Rs. 1500 crores or 4 per cent is likely to be insufficient, especially given large liabilities of payments at over Rs 6,000 crore.

The speech instead focused on universal provision of subsidies, health insurance and skill development, while remaining silent on major social sector programs. The finance minister’s numbers in the Budget, unfortunately, don’t live up to his vision of the social sector as a pillar to transform India. 

(With assistance from Vikram Srinivas)

Avani Kapur is Senior Researcher and program analyst at CPR’s Accountability Initiative

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