Budget 2016-17 talks more on social sector, but low on action

  • Chetan Chauhan, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Mar 02, 2016 01:32 IST

Finance minister Arun Jaitley, MoS for finance Jayant Sinha and finance secretary Ratan P Watal during a pre-Budget consultation meeting in New Delhi on Tuesday. (PTI)

Finance minister Arun Jaitley’s budget speech focused on the social sector more than before, but it failed to reflect amply in fund allocation to key ministries such as education, health, poverty alleviation and women and child development.

The argument put forth was that Rs 64,144 crore more was allocated to states for 2016-17 as compared to the previous budgetary estimate and the additional money would be spent on the welfare of people. Another reason was that 31 of the 64 Centrally Sponsored Schemes were transferred to the states and, therefore, that money was reflected in the Central plan outlay.

That argument, however, falls flat, as the states will have to dole out more to seek Central funds under ‘core schemes’ such as Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and the Integrated Child Development Scheme — because in October 2015, the Centre reduced its share in these schemes and passed on the burden to the states.

The new funding mechanism that came into force last year showed that spending on vital sectors such as education and health had fallen. Only 4% of the funds earmarked for health was spent by September 2015, according to an analysis by Accountability Initiative. In the case of education, it was 34%.

Even in schemes such as social security and midday meal, where the Centre has committed to continue with higher funding, allocation has virtually remained the same or gone down as compared to the previous year.

In case of social security for poor senior citizens and widows, Rs 2,426 crore was allocated, a dip from Rs 3,385 crore for 2015-16, but the FM presented it as an increase by comparing it with a revised estimate for 2015-16 — which was Rs 1,558 crore. The most deprived sections of society too got `1,375 crore less than in last year’s budget.

These are just are a few of the many instances when budgetary estimate for the next fiscal was compared with revised estimate for the current financial year to show higher allocation. There was more rhetoric than action for the social sector in the budget, documents show.

Jaitley mentioned “farm” 42 times in his speech, but the increase in allocation to the agriculture ministry was largely because of accounting change. The farm loan interest subvention, introduced by the UPA government, was the responsibility of the finance ministry, but the Rs 15,000 crore allocation was transferred to the agriculture ministry this year, resulting in its budget looking good.

There was, of course, the Prime Minister’s stamp on the budget with the Swachh Bharat campaign getting a 150% hike — the highest among all social sector schemes.

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