The much-neglected Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) was the first to be tapped to provide employment to millions of migrant workers returning to their native states (ANI)
The much-neglected Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) was the first to be tapped to provide employment to millions of migrant workers returning to their native states (ANI)

What the budget means for India’s social sector

With livelihoods, poverty and social safety nets still in a precarious position, the neglect of the social sector will hamper India’s attempt to build a dynamic, resilient and equitable social welfare architecture.
By Avani Kapur
UPDATED ON FEB 03, 2021 07:06 AM IST

Budget 2021-22, the first following the unprecedented Covid-19 pandemic, was always going to be a difficult one for finance minister (FM) Nirmala Sitharaman — with the need to match high expectations with the reality of low revenues. From a macroeconomic perspective, the budget speech hit many of the right notes.

The transparency in presenting the fiscal deficit numbers, the commitment to bring off-budget transactions back on the books, the repayment to the debt-ridden Food Corporation of India (FCI), the low (but realistic) revenue assumptions, and a focus on increasing infrastructure, were all positive steps.

Yet, when it came to social welfare — the backbone of India’s pandemic response — the silence in the budget is revealing of the government’s discomfort with pushing a redistributive and welfare State.

There is no doubt that the pandemic has disproportionately impacted India’s poor and vulnerable and India’s ability to respond quickly to the pandemic rested to a large degree on our existing welfare architecture. The Union government relied on several welfare schemes to deliver benefits to citizens. The midday meal (MDM) scheme, which caters to 116 million school-going children, was expanded to include additional grains during the summer months. The presence of millions of frontline workers allowed us to quickly ensure that, even with anganwadi centres and schools closed, we could deliver rations directly to people’s homes. Food subsidy and the presence of a large public distribution network enabled us to expand supply to vulnerable households.

Similarly, the much-neglected Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) was the first to be tapped to provide employment to millions of migrant workers returning to their native states. Through the year, the government’s fiscal stimulus packages highlighted the need to ensure adequate finances to these areas. Strangely though, most of these have seen either cuts or have resumed business as usual. Let’s look at them one by one.

First, nutrition. The release of the latest National Family Health Survey (NFHS-5) results shows that even prior to the pandemic, for many states, child malnutrition levels in 2019 were higher than the previous round in 2015-16. Add to that the fall in incomes and disruption of services due to the pandemic, and the numbers are likely to worsen. Estimates suggest that even a 9.5% decline in India’s GDP could lead to an additional 3.9 million children wasted or suffering from acute malnutrition.

Yet, nearly all nutrition programmes have seen budget cuts. For instance, revised estimates for the Integrated Child Development Services even during the pandemic year, i.e. 2020-21, were 16% lower than those budgeted. This is despite the fact that budget estimates themselves had failed to keep up either with projected demand by the ministry or even requirements to ensure universal coverage. An Accountability Initiative study has found that for supplementary nutrition alone, approved budgets accounted for less than half the requirements.

Similarly, while 13,400 crore was announced for the MDM scheme during the current year (due to additional allocations for providing meals in the summer months and increase in cooking costs), revised estimates are lower at 12,900 crore, suggesting under-spending or lower than planned coverage. Budget 2021 has in fact cut allocations further to 11,500 crore. Then there is the Poshan Abhiyaan — India’s flagship programme to improve nutritional outcomes in a mission-driven, time-bound manner (by 2022). Cumulatively, since the start of the programme till October 31, 2020, the Union government had released only 46% of its share. This year, even the budget has been cut by 27%. Nor was there much mention of Covid-19 warriors — the understaffed, overburdened and low-paid frontline workers. Instead, we now have a new mission called the Saksham Anganwadi and POSHAN 2.0, which combines previous schemes at an outlay of 20,105 crore. While details are still awaited, from a purely fiscal perspective, allocations are lower than the budget estimates for ICDS in 2020-21.

Second, health. Conventionally, health outlays have referred to allocations for the health ministry alone. This time though, the government presented the health budget in an inter-sectoral manner announcing a whopping 137% increase. But a look at the direct budget for the ministry shows only a 10% increase compared to last year’s budget estimate. More puzzling is the lack of priority given to the National Health Mission (NHM) — the flagship scheme to direct non-wage expenditures on primary health to states and an important mechanism to strengthen the health system. With a 4% increase in nominal terms for NHM, allocations won’t even keep up with rising inflation.

And, finally, on rural employment, consider MGNREGS. Despite revised allocations topping over 1 lakh crore, the highest-ever since the scheme’s launch, it is still unable to keep pace with increased demand. So much so that with two months left in the fiscal year, expenditure is already nearly 90,000 crore. With allocations falling this year to 73,000 crore, the scheme is going to continue to mount pending liabilities or payments due.

With livelihoods, poverty and social safety nets still in a precarious position, the neglect of the social sector will hamper India’s attempt to build a dynamic, resilient and equitable social welfare architecture.

Avani Kapur is a fellow, Centre for Policy Research and director of the Accountability Initiative

The views expressed are personal

SHARE THIS ARTICLE ON
Close
Without either the wealth and connections or profile of India’s film industry, Faruqui has shown more courage and almost zero cynicism. It doesn’t matter if you found his jokes funny or not — the jail-time he was subjected to was an abomination. (ANI)
Without either the wealth and connections or profile of India’s film industry, Faruqui has shown more courage and almost zero cynicism. It doesn’t matter if you found his jokes funny or not — the jail-time he was subjected to was an abomination. (ANI)

What Bollywood could learn from Munawar Faruqui

PUBLISHED ON MAR 05, 2021 06:09 PM IST
In this patchy, roller-coaster of a fortnight for India’s fundamental freedoms, some individuals have stood up, while others have failed our citizens
Close
The Digital Media Code has been formulated rather speciously, under Section 87 (1) & (2)(z) & (zg) of the Information Technology Act, 2000 (as amended) (“IT Act”) i.e., the rule-making power. Rule-making or subordinate legislations are intended to carry out the purpose of an enactment. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
The Digital Media Code has been formulated rather speciously, under Section 87 (1) & (2)(z) & (zg) of the Information Technology Act, 2000 (as amended) (“IT Act”) i.e., the rule-making power. Rule-making or subordinate legislations are intended to carry out the purpose of an enactment. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Creating a sustainable, legitimate digital regulatory regime

By NS Nappinai
PUBLISHED ON MAR 05, 2021 05:55 PM IST
The Digital Media Code fails to conform to, and, in fact, confounds, every settled constitutional mandate for lawmaking — the very obvious premise that law is to be made by the lawmakers i.e. the legislature and not the executive.
Close
Six decades after the Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961, the continuing prevalence of dowry remains India’s national shame. The 2019 National Crime Records Bureau data tells us that a woman is subject to cruelty by her husband and in-laws every four minutes. (Reuters)
Six decades after the Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961, the continuing prevalence of dowry remains India’s national shame. The 2019 National Crime Records Bureau data tells us that a woman is subject to cruelty by her husband and in-laws every four minutes. (Reuters)

Dowry remains India’s abiding shame

UPDATED ON MAR 05, 2021 05:47 PM IST
In the run-up to the International Women’s Day, it’s good to celebrate the undeniable gains on our road to gender equality. But it’s also worth remembering just how far we have to go — and how little has changed.
Close
Indian nationalism has always been inward-looking and focused on national development, which was always strongly imbued with welfare and social justice goals (Raj K Raj/HT PHOTO)
Indian nationalism has always been inward-looking and focused on national development, which was always strongly imbued with welfare and social justice goals (Raj K Raj/HT PHOTO)

In defence of rooted Indian nationalism

By Abhinav Prakash Singh
PUBLISHED ON MAR 04, 2021 07:38 PM IST
Indian nationalism does not seek to conquer or colonise other countries. Instead, it supported national struggles in other countries under imperialist rule, emphasising sovereignty and democracy.
Close
A more careful look at how the BJP has risen in Bengal, and how the ruling TMC has sought to counteract its growth, is instructive in understanding the new dimensions of the BJP’s appeal and possible templates to defeat it (Samir Jana / Hindustan Times)
A more careful look at how the BJP has risen in Bengal, and how the ruling TMC has sought to counteract its growth, is instructive in understanding the new dimensions of the BJP’s appeal and possible templates to defeat it (Samir Jana / Hindustan Times)

Why the battle of Bengal matters

By Neelanjan Sircar
UPDATED ON MAR 04, 2021 07:38 PM IST
The BJP’s rise is remarkable. If the TMC still wins, it will offer a template on how to challenge a hegemon
Close
Ratings, of BARC type, are indispensable for the broadcast industry (Hindustan Times)
Ratings, of BARC type, are indispensable for the broadcast industry (Hindustan Times)

BARC plays a valuable role. Preserve it

By Paritosh Joshi
PUBLISHED ON MAR 04, 2021 07:38 PM IST
BARC has its problems. But the solution is unlikely to lie in denouncing it. It is still the best bet for hundreds of broadcasters to remain viable, and hundreds of millions of viewers to enjoy the fruits of their exertion
Close
There have been major state-level differences in the burden and mortality from Covid-19. Deploy vaccines accordingly and prioritise affected areas (Sanjeev Verma/HT PHOTO)
There have been major state-level differences in the burden and mortality from Covid-19. Deploy vaccines accordingly and prioritise affected areas (Sanjeev Verma/HT PHOTO)

Refine the Covid-19 vaccination strategy

By Rajinder Dhamija
UPDATED ON MAR 04, 2021 02:13 PM IST
Research has shown that the pandemic has disproportionately affected regions witha high per capita income and a high burden of NCDs
Close
Having women leaders leads to improved provision of public goods and focus on education and health (Shutterstock)
Having women leaders leads to improved provision of public goods and focus on education and health (Shutterstock)

Where are India’s women leaders?

By Soumya Kapoor Mehta and Steven Walker
UPDATED ON MAR 04, 2021 02:14 PM IST
Women are less involved when it comes to participation in campaigns and contacts with public officials. Women candidates also have less education and experience, on average, compared to male candidates. There are also different societal expectations from political leaders of different genders
Close
Japan’s prime minister Yoshihide Suga, announced a minister of loneliness to his cabinet last month, closely following a similar announcement in January 2018 by the United Kingdom (UK). Loneliness is rarely acknowledged, deeply misunderstood, and alongside anxiety and depression, presents a massive opportunity for rectification as India copes with Covid-19 and beyond. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Japan’s prime minister Yoshihide Suga, announced a minister of loneliness to his cabinet last month, closely following a similar announcement in January 2018 by the United Kingdom (UK). Loneliness is rarely acknowledged, deeply misunderstood, and alongside anxiety and depression, presents a massive opportunity for rectification as India copes with Covid-19 and beyond. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

There is a looming epidemic — of loneliness. Take it seriously

By Saumyajit Roy
UPDATED ON MAR 04, 2021 02:14 PM IST
India has a real opportunity to showcase solutions to a global audience towards using the best of tech and expertise in reducing loneliness. While a dedicated ministry for loneliness may just be the impetus, all we need is to look for are basic ways and means to help people who are on the brink of feeling lonely.
Close
India ranks very low in the list of well-administered nations and rank high amongst corrupt nations. despite several efforts to overhaul the administrative processes(HT Photo)
India ranks very low in the list of well-administered nations and rank high amongst corrupt nations. despite several efforts to overhaul the administrative processes(HT Photo)

Scratching the surface hasn’ helped. It is time to strike at the core issues

By VS Pandey, New Delhi
UPDATED ON MAR 03, 2021 03:02 PM IST
  • India's administrative structure led by All India Services such as the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) and the Indian Police Service (IPS) adopted an approach of 5% vs 95%.
Close
While there may be a temporary easing of military tension, there has been criticism in China of the disengagement. China could well attempt another military adventure in its bid to frustrate India’s rise (AFP)
While there may be a temporary easing of military tension, there has been criticism in China of the disengagement. China could well attempt another military adventure in its bid to frustrate India’s rise (AFP)

Disengagement will not lead to friendship

By Jayadeva Ranade
UPDATED ON MAR 03, 2021 04:07 PM IST
Notwithstanding the recent exchanges between the Indian and Chinese foreign ministers and military commanders at the border, India-China relations remain at a critical stage
Close
Muslims have been the most educationally backward group in India. In comparison to their population, they have the lowest enrolment rates at elementary, high school and higher secondary school education, as well as higher education (Raj K Raj/ Hindustan Times)
Muslims have been the most educationally backward group in India. In comparison to their population, they have the lowest enrolment rates at elementary, high school and higher secondary school education, as well as higher education (Raj K Raj/ Hindustan Times)

Provide data on the education of Muslims

By John Kurrien
PUBLISHED ON MAR 02, 2021 06:55 PM IST
Monitoring the educational progress of Muslims was hamstrung by the absence of official data, leading to their downward spiral that went unnoticed for decades
Close
Negative interactions between humans and wildlife intensify when local communities feel that wildlife needs or values are given priority over their own needs (Manoj Kumar/Hindustan Times)
Negative interactions between humans and wildlife intensify when local communities feel that wildlife needs or values are given priority over their own needs (Manoj Kumar/Hindustan Times)

The pandemic has added to the urgency of protecting wildlife

By Dipankar Ghose
UPDATED ON MAR 03, 2021 04:14 PM IST
Wildlife conservation needs to be prioritised, and development plans at country, state and district levels need to take cognisance of wildlife needs
Close
Technology, communications, and data play to our strengths. These are the areas redefining every industry and we have the technology talent; our standards will be closer to the US, and we have continental-size data. (REUTERS)
Technology, communications, and data play to our strengths. These are the areas redefining every industry and we have the technology talent; our standards will be closer to the US, and we have continental-size data. (REUTERS)

The India-US tech partnership decade

By Janmejaya Sinha
UPDATED ON MAR 01, 2021 07:30 PM IST
US support enabled China’s high-growth trajectory. But the rift between the two offers India an opportunity
Close
The Panchamasali Lingayat community is one of the largest sub-sect within the Lingayat community.(ANI/Twitter)
The Panchamasali Lingayat community is one of the largest sub-sect within the Lingayat community.(ANI/Twitter)

Who is stirring the caste cauldron in Karnataka?

By Venkatesha Babu, Bengaluru
UPDATED ON MAR 01, 2021 07:08 PM IST
  • The Karnataka government has blamed the opposition for fishing in troubled waters by trying to take political advantage of the agitations but Yediyurappa may have to look within.
Close
SHARE
Story Saved
OPEN APP