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Not feeling too social just yet

There is no uncommon touch for the common man in the budget despite adequate allocations.
Hindustan Times | By HT Correspondent
UPDATED ON MAR 01, 2011 11:22 PM IST

In the 2010-11 budget speech, finance minister Pranab Mukherjee had made grand observations about how the budget belonged to the aam aadmi. But a year later — standing at the same place and in front of the same audience — he steered clear of any such grandstanding.

Given this and the fact that the 2011-12 budget has not had any big-ticket outlay for the social sector, many feel that the common man has been given a short shrift and the budget is, at best, a bagful of half measures.

Yet, in Mr Mukherjee’s defence, there have been some significant increases: the proposed allocation of Rs 1,60,887 crore for the social sector in the budget has seen an increase of a nifty 17% over the current year. This, the finance minister reminded the House, amounts to 36.4% cent of the total plan allocation.

But a scrutiny of the proposals show that there are several half-measures. While the belated increase in the remuneration of anganwadi workers, the last mile link between the Integrated Child Development Services programme and its beneficiaries, is a welcome move, there has been no mention of adding to the number of centres we now have.

The present shortfall is around 1.75 lakh centres. Similarly the health sector should have been given a bigger boost considering that flash expenses on health pushes families back into the poverty trap. The 12% increase in allocations to the health ministry is “grossly inadequate” since the primary health centres and community health centres need to be beefed up with health workers, medicines and equipment.

According to one estimate, the government needs to invest Rs 3,000 crore to upgrade existing facilities. In education, a key sector that will produce the workforce required to sustain India’s economic progress, the government has not gone the whole hog.

For 2011-12, the finance minister has allocated Rs 21,000 crore which is 40% higher than the Rs 15,000 crore allocated in 2010-11. Though the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act wages, the UPA’s flagship programme, will be linked to the Consumer Price Index for Agricultural Labour, the allocation has seen a slight dip.

When the states are sitting on a neat pile of money, the government feels, there’s no need to budget.

So is the government is diluting the aam aadmi focus? In the present political scenario, this is unlikely. But, Mr Mukherjee, it seems, took this budget to pause and reassess the leaky delivery system before spreading more money round.

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