Union budget: How government has sought to keep social sector interventions to the minimum

right to food

The Right to Food Campaign statement on “paltry social sector allocations in the Union budget for the financial year 2018-19:

The Right to Food Campaign is highly disappointed with the budget for 2018-19 presented by the Union Finance Minister. It has miserably failed to respond to the present situation of rural distress and mass unemployment in the country. Despite a spate of starvation deaths in different parts of the country, the budget makes no mention of hunger or malnutrition. It seemingly makes a big push for health care but even this is high on rhetoric and low on any real intervention.

Overall, the budget shows that the present government will ensure “maximum governance, minimum government” by washing its hands off all responsibilities towards the welfare of people and keep its social sector interventions to the minimum.

There was some hope that the budget would be used as an opportunity to expand the Public Distribution System to include nutritious food items such as pulses and edible oils. However, there was no such announcement. The food subsidy has increased from Rs 1.45 lakh crores in 2017-18 to almost Rs 1.69 lakh crores in 2018-19. This modest increase of 17 per cent in nominal terms masks reductions in several sub-categories of expenditure. For instance, the subsidy for decentralised procurement is reduced from Rs 38,000 crores in 2017-18 to Rs 31,000 in 2018-19.

This reduction will adversely impact poor states such as Chhattisgarh and Odisha that rely on this subsidy. The assistance to state agencies for intra-state movement of foodgrains and fair price shop dealers is slashed from Rs 4,500 in the ongoing financial year to Rs 4,000 for the coming year. The impact of this reduction will be compounded by the 10 per cent increase in diesel prices over the past year. Regarding minimum support price for crops, there is no clarity on how it will be calculated.

The Midday Meals budget has increased from Rs 10,000 crores to Rs 10,500 crores, which is not an increase at all when adjusted for inflation. Once again, there is no reflection of any attempts to improve the quality of the meals by including nutrient rich items like eggs, fruits and milk.

The budget for the Integrated Child Development Services (core) is up from Rs 15,245 crores (BE and RE) to Rs 16,334 crores (BE) which is certainly not an increase in any meaningful sense. The Annual Programme Implementation Plan (APIP) of the programme for instance, shows an allocation of over Rs 300 crores as ‘management costs for Aadhaar enrolment”. There are a number of ethical concerns with the coerced enrolment of children by the UIDAI, that too with the budget meant for children’s health and nutrition. Small children will also suffer from the 36 per cent reduction in the budget for the National Crèche Scheme – from Rs 200 crores in 2017-18 to Rs 128.4 crores in 2018-19.

The budgetary allocation for the National Nutrition Mission (Rs 3,000 crores) does not indicate how it will be utilised. Before expending the funds of this mission, the details have to be made public to ensure transparency and should be accompanied by public consultations and deliberations.

The National Food Security Act 2013 guarantees universal maternity entitlements at Rs 6,000 per child. Women in the formal employment have a right to paid leave for 4-6 months. Sadly, only a small fraction of women benefit from this support as 90 per cent of the workforce is employed in the informal sector. Maternity entitlements under the 2013 Act can be viewed as the informal sector equivalent – at a much lower scale – of the rights that women in formal employment enjoy.

In spite of the Prime Minister’s grand promises for a maternity entitlement scheme in December 2016, the actual budgetary allocation for this scheme is woefully inadequate to cover all pregnant women of the country. Only Rs 2,400 crores is allocated for 2018-19 in place of the RE of Rs 2,594 crores (BE of Rs 2,700 crore) for 2017-18 for the Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana.

The allocation for the scheme has gone down in a context where recent data from the Ministry of Women and Child Department shows that there is a huge backlog of applications from last year with only 2 per cent of the eligible women covered until January 2018. Further, the benefit is only of Rs 5,000 and is restricted to the first birth. A maternity entitlement scheme as per the National Food Security Act entitlements requires a budget of about Rs 13,000. The union government should allocate at least 60 per cent of this amount, i.e. Rs 7,800.

The budget for the National Social Assistance Programme has increased from Rs 9,500 crores to Rs 9,975 crores – a mere increase of 5 per cent in nominal terms. The central government’s contribution to social security pensions continues to be an insulting Rs 200 per month for persons between 60-79 years of age and Rs 500 for those above this age group. Contribution for disability pension (18-79 years) and widow pension is Rs 300 (40-79 years).

The 2018-19 budget of Rs 55,000 crores for the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) is the same as that for the ongoing year in nominal terms. The budget for 2017-18 is itself grossly inadequate to meet the full demand for work, payment of compensation for the full duration of wage delays and an increase in the NREGA wage rate to at least the level of state minimum wages.

Although the Finance Minister’s speech focused on agriculture and rural revival; this is not reflected in the budget figures. The promise of Minimum Support Price of 50 per cent over costs is an empty one as it has not been realised till now and is neither reflected by higher allocations in the current budget. It is not even clear which costs are included in this – C2 as recommended by the National Commission on Farmers should be considered.

The paltry budget for the social security sector also exposes the farce of the Finance Minister’s pre-budget consultations with civil society groups. This exercise can hardly be termed as a “consultation” as it involves no dialogue. Each participant is given just three minutes to speak with no response from any government representative.

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One thought on “Union budget: How government has sought to keep social sector interventions to the minimum

  1. While the mainstream media highlighted the budget proposals as agriculture friendly, the reality is contrary to the pronouncements. The finance minister has merely said that farmers sufferings have been taken into account but there are almost no concrete proposals to back – up his claims

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