Nation HEAL thyself

Tags: Policy

Playing catch up

Some 363 million poor Indians survive on Rs 47 per day (as per Rangarajan committee estimates). By an interesting 21st century twist to our long and illustrious cultural history, these add up close to the 330 million gods and goddesses who grace the hindu pantheon. A democratically ele­cted government as the collective will of a people must pay heed to these gods of 21st century India. The most important means of doing so is by putting the state’s resources to the service of those who need it most. The budget as an annual statement of acc­ounts of expenditures and allocations reflects the overarching vision of the government and marshalls resou­rces towards realising it.

“Recall the face of the poorest and ask yourself if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him (her). Will it restore him control over his life and destiny? Will it lead to swaraj (freedom) for the hungry and starving millions?” This was Gandhi’s talisman. This talisman should be the pivot for the budget of a country, which is still home to one quarter of the world’s undernourished population, over a third of the world’s underweight children, and nearly a third of the world’s food-insecure people.

Presenting the Union Budget for 2016-2017, finance minister Arun Jaitley considered it a ‘sacred responsibility’ to spend money on behalf of the people, especially ‘the poor and downtrodden’, as he had, in 2015-16, averred the government’s commitment to ‘daridra Narayan’. The 2015-2016 economic survey emphasised “wiping every tear from every eye’ and cautioned against delegitimising the state’s essential roles and advocated strengthening it in important areas.

The essential role of the state is creating opportunities for fostering human capabilities in ways that are equitable and empowering. Fundamental to this are health, education and livelihood. While the Jan Dhan-Aadhar-Mobile or JAM is spoken of as magic trinity, the real trinity is Health Education And Livelihood — and in a rural context it needs to expand to mean Health, Education, Agriculture and Liveliood or HEAL. JAM can only be a means to HEAL India.

Of the nine pillars to transform the lives of people, those that directly impact the lives of the poor are agriculture and farmers welfare, rural employment and infrastructure, ‘health and ‘education and skills’. The Budget recognises that agriculture and farmers’ welfare are the backbone of country and that they should go beyond food security to income security with an ambition to double farm incomes by 2022. This should benefit nearly 42 per cent of Indian households dependent on their income from farming. The agriculture budget doubles from about Rs 25,000 crore (2015-2016) to Rs 44,485 crore. Rightly focusing on irrigation, the finance minister announced a total of Rs 17,000 crore to be spent on irrigation going up to Rs 86,500 crore in five years.

For micro irrigation, ongoing irrigation schemes – the accelerated irrigation benefit programme, integrated watershed management programme and on farm water management were converged into the prime minister’s krishi sinchayi yojana (PMKSY). The PMKSY’s allocation of Rs 5,767 crore will hopefully move towards the funding levels of Rs 7,550 crore in the revised estimates for 2015-16 across departments. The PM fasal bima yojana at Rs 5,501, will give the much-needed security to farmers. The rashtriya krishi vikas yojana has an allocation of Rs 5,400 crore increasing from the previous year’s outlay of Rs 4,500 crore and with the new thrust on agriculture, the expenditure may hopefully reach the actuals of Rs 8,443 crore of 2014-2015.

The budget allocation for rural development is enhanced from to Rs 87,757 crore from the RE 2015-2016 of Rs 77,700 crore. The major enhancement is on pradhan mantri gram sadak yojana to Rs 19,000 crore from Rs 9,000 crore. The Mahatama Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) increases from the 2015-16 RE of Rs 35,766 crore to Rs 38,500 crore. This may need upward revision later, since expenditure as of February 2016 is Rs 43,787 crore. This generates only 43 days of work per household providing employment to only 4.3 crore households. MGNREGA is demand driven. To meet the current demand, the budget would need at least Rs 44,000 crore. The highest personday per household generated to the highest number of household was 54 days per person day to five crore households in 2009-2010. To reach even that level of employment generation -- still half way mark to the 100 days guarantee, at current cost, needs Rs 63,000 crore. Other employment generation schemes also gain such as the national rural livelihood mission (Ajeevika) with Rs 3,000 crore, almost three times up from than the 2015-16 budget. Rural housing increases from Rs 10, 000 crore to 15, 000 crore.

Nutrition gets a fillip with the mid-day meal scheme (MDMS) at Rs 9,700 crore, moving closer to the actuals of Rs10,446 crore in 2014-2015. However, the budget for the integrated child development services (ICDS) continues to be reduced for the second consecutive fiscal year from an actual expenditure of Rs 16,552 crore in 2014-2015, to an RE of Rs 15,400 crore to a BE of Rs 14,000 crore for the core ICDS. This will have to be monitored closely as this impacts health.

Health budget lifts up to Rs 38,206 crore from an RE of Rs 33,831 crore. The main platform of basic health care reaching out to the poor and to remote areas - the National Health Mission (NHM) is retained almost at the same level as Rs 19,000 crore as the 2015-2016. A new health protection scheme for health cover up to Rs 1 lakh per family will be formulated. Some 3,000 stores for affordable drugs under the jan aushudhi yojana will be opened. National dialysis services programme under NHM will be opened under a PPP mode. However, a hike of Rs 4,000 crore will have to struggle to meet the competing demands of rural health infrastructure and personnel to make health affordable to the poor.

If the health of a body is bare survival, the opportunity to move out of minimalist existence is the mind. The school education budget increases to Rs 43,554 crore from the 2015-16 RE of Rs 42,186 crore and the higher education budget from Rs 25,400 crore to Rs 28,840 crore. These are nominal hikes and may require further strengthening to augment both access and quality. Social sector allocation, including health and education is pegged at Rs 1,51, 581 crore. As a proportion of the gross domestic product (GDP), expenditure on education has hovered around 3 per cent and the expenditure on health, as a proportion of GDP has remained stagnant at less than 2 per cent during the same period. Thomas Piketty, author of ‘Capital in twenty-first century’ says that the poor catch up with the rich through knowledge diffusion, by achieving the same “level of technological know how, skill and education, not by becoming the property of the wealthy.”

Can the Budget push India’s poor to catch up with its rich?

amitasharma@mydigitalfc.com

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