Maharashtra NGOs present ‘People’s Budget’, demand focus on education, farmers
The ‘Right to Life’ movement presented ‘People’s Budget’ on Wednesdaymumbai Updated: Feb 15, 2018 09:32 IST
With less than a month to go before the Maharashtra government presents its budget, a group of non-governmental organisations — under the ‘Right to Life’ banner— presented ‘People’s Budget’ on Wednesday.
The ‘People’s Budget for Maharashtra’ demanded an additional Rs32,500 crore for the social sector, by increasing budgetary allocation for food security through the public distribution system, agriculture, education, public health and provisions for Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Sscheduled Tribes (STs) .
The key demands for food security included a subsidy of Rs5,695 crore to supply 2kg of rice, dal and sugar, and 2 litres of oil to all card holders
The People’s Budget demanded re-inclusion of 1.77 crore saffron card holders into the PDS system, maternity benefit of Rs6,000 per child, and making Aadhaar card optional for PDS system. In the education sector, the NGOs demanded an additional allocation of Rs15,666 crore for schools, of which Rs7,420 crore will be used to bring back 23 lakh out-of-school children, and Rs8,246 crore to give government school students quality education on the lines of Kendriya Vidyalay. They also called for an end to concessions to new private unaided schools to discourage private education. In the agriculture sector, the NGOs have demanded a budgetary provision for 16 hours of continuous and free electricity to all farm lands; Rs5,000 pension for farmers; and fast track courts over land dispute.
According to the Right to Life movement, the government can mop up Rs1,09,000 crore by increasing taxes on alcohol, tobacco, mining and graded professions tax, and collecting of unpaid taxes. However, this demand comes despite underspending the allotted funds for these sectors. According to official figures obtained by Right to Life movement, the Maharashtra government has spent about 40% of the 2017-18 budget as of February 14. However, economists have refuted these expectations. Economist Abhay Pethe said, “It is unwise to raise taxes. For example, if the tax on mining is raised, it will have a cascading effect on other commodities. Mining provides raw material to industries, which produce everyday goods also. Taxes on alcohol are already high.” He said that the problem lies with under-utilisation of budgetary provisions for social sectors.
“We need really good policies and ensure their implementation.”
‘42% of ICDS funds remain unspent’
The state government is yet to utilise 42% funds allotted to Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS), claimed activists from Right to Live, a social movement of experts and activists from various fields across Maharashtra. Activists targeted Rs1,443 crore reduction in fund allocation for ICDS in past three tears and proposed a raise of Rs4,521 in the Maharashtra budget 2018-19.
ICDS run by the state and central governments provides food, preschool education and primary healthcare to children below six years of age and their mothers. As per the July 2017 report of ICDS, 10% of 60,26,397 children are underweight; 83,500 of them severely underweight; and 5,51,134 moderate underweight.
“After studying the scheme, its reach and lapses, we realised that the ideal budget allocation for the scheme should be Rs7,368.39 crore. The amount will address severe issues such as pending honorarium to Aasha workers, helpers, supplementary nutrition, non-formal education and training material of the scheme providers and rent for urban Anganwadis,” said Vinod Shende, a nutrition expert who presented the People’s Budget.
Experts attributed the under-utilisation of funds to the government failure to effectively implement the scheme. In 2015-16, the scheme was allotted Rs3.607 crore which was reduced to Rs2,947 crore in 2016-17. The year 2017-18 witnessed further deduction in budget allocation at Rs2,164 crore. “Despite budgetary cuts in 2015-16, state officials spent Rs230 crore from the proposed budget of year 2016-17 to balance the deficit of that year,” said Subhash Shamin from Aanganwadi workers association.
Shamin added that they are also demanding an extension in the timings of Aanganwadis.