Fifty years after the Kothari Commission first recommended to raise public spending on education to 6% of India’s GDP — and despite repeated mentions in successive National Education Policies and in the poll promises of various governments — India is far away from meeting the goal.
In a press conference on Sunday, Prakash Javadekar, minister of human resource and development stated that, if you combine the expenditure of both the centre and state governments, India will roughly be spending 4.5% of its GDP on education. But the minister got the numbers wrong. The recently released Economic Survey estimates that India spent just 2.9% of its GDP on education for the year 2016-17, the most recent year for which estimates are available. The budgetary allocation of the Union government for 2017-18 won’t change that either.
The numbers also contradict the minister’s claim that the Modi government is progressing towards the 6% goal: data show that the government has not increased education spending, as a proportion of GDP, in the last two years. From 2001 onwards, government (centre and state together) spending on education has been hovering around 3% of GDP, reaching a low of 2.59% in 2007-08 and a high of 3.1% in 2013-14.
Further, Javadekar said that the private investment, and not government spending alone, must also be accounted for when considering the 6% figure. Only then we will have 6% of GDP spent on education, he said. By saying this, the minister is moving away from the promise made by his party (BJP) in its election manifesto of 2014, which said: “Public spending on education would be raised to 6% of the GDP, and involving the private sector would further enhance this” (emphasis added).
Javadekar’s misinterpretation of the 6% figure is not the first of its kind. In a 2007 paper in Economic & Political Weekly, Dr Jandhyala B G Tilak, professor of educational finance at National University of Educational Planning and Administration, decried “attempts to misinterpret the facts, to quantitatively under-define the goals, to cover our dismal failures and to boast of our (pseudo) achievements.”
There are more problems. Over the last six years, for instance, allocation to Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan (SSA), the government’s flagship programme for universal elementary education, falls far short of the central share approved by the ministry of human resource development (MHRD), according to an analysis by the Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability. In 2017-18, while MHRD estimated a resource demand of Rs 55,000 crores for SSA, only Rs. 23,500 crore was allocated—42.7% of the approved outlay.
“This clearly indicates that the Ministry of Finance has not been able to fulfil the commitments made by the MHRD,” the report says.
Explaining the gap in SSA funding, an MHRD official told HT that, ever since the recommendations of the Fourteenth Finance Commission (FFC) were accepted in 2015-16, the onus to fulfil the budgetary requirements of SSA now lies with the states, as they are now expected to fund 40% of SSA, when previously they were only expected to fund 25%. Yet even before the FFC recommendations were put in place, the funding targets were not met.
An analysis of the budgets of 17 states by PRS Legislative Research found that expenditure by the states on key social and economic sectors, including education, has not changed substantially following the implementation of the FFC recommendations in 2015-16. The actual spending figures for 2015-16, which will provide a clearer picture of the impact of finance commission recommendations on social spending, will start to become available in the coming months as states release their budget documents.