Despite many malnutrition-related deaths in Maharashtra, the state government slashed the budget allocation for the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) programme for the next financial year by 31%.
Till August 2016, malnutrition claimed lives of 254 children in Palghar district of Maharashtra. As per the latest ICDS data (November 2016), in Maharashtra, 5.9 lakh children suffer from Moderate Acute Malnutrition, while 87,833 children from Severe Acute Malnutrition. The ICDS is a centrally-run scheme under which nutritious food is given to poor children who are under the danger of malnutrition.
An analysis of the Maharashtra budget for 2017-18 by ‘Jaganyachya Hakkache Andolan’ (JHA), a network of organisations working on people’s right to life, showed massive drop in spending of the social service sector.
The revised budget for ICDS for the year 2016-17 was Rs2,947 crore, while finance minister Sudhir Mungantiwar allocated Rs 2,033 crore for ICDS for 2017-18, which is a drop of Rs 914 crore. “This cut in the ICDS budget if for a second successive year is extremely surprising, since the problem of child malnutrition, especially in tribal areas of Maharashtra, has continued in severe form,” said Amit Narkar, executive director, National Centre for Advocacy Studies.
However, the analysis pointed out that this is not the first time that the state had drastically slashed the budget for ICDS. In budget 2016-17, the state government “savagely” cut the ICDS budget by 62%, which was “unprecedented in the history of the programme for child nutrition and health”’.
Vinod Shende, a volunteer with JHA, said Maharashtra needs to look at Tamil Nadu on how it spends to tackle malnutrition. “Maharashtra should substantially increase fund allocation for ICDS if it seriously wants to tackle the issue. The state should allocate around Rs 4,800 crore for nutrition, but instead they are slashing the expenditure,” Shende said.
Deepak Kesarkar, Minister of state for Finance, said the allocations are according to the central government’s allocations. “I don’t have the exact figures with me now, but ICDS is a central programme, and it also allocates funds to the state. So depending on that, the state government allocates funds for the department. If funds are needed, we can add it in the supplementary budget,” Kesarkar told HT.
According to Ravi Duggal, country head, International Budget Partnership, said, “Their dependency on supplementary budget shows the weakness in planning the budgetary resources by the finance ministry.”
The analysis added that the budget which was touted as a farmer-friendly and pro-development budget, was deceptive and depriving as its commitment for agriculture and allied service saw a decline of 4.3% in comparison to last year’s allocation. Narkar added that the government has slashed budget allocation in social services sector and is going for fiscal conservatism, which will harm the state in the long run.