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The social sector has been short-changed once again

GS Paper 2

Syllabus: Issues Relating to Development and Management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources

 

Source: TH

 Direction: The article highlights the implications of reduced allocations for the social sector program in the Union Budget 2023-24.

  

Context: The Union Budget 2023-24 reiterates the strategic vision of the government in which both economic recovery and job creation rest on increased capital expenditure (capex) while welfare segment has taken a toll.

 

The Budget announcements:

Increase in capex and its implications:

  • A capex of ₹10 lakh crore, a 33% increase over last year.
  • The budget estimate (BE) for effective capex is now is 4.5% of the GDP, up from 3.9% last year.
  • Government remains on its ‘path of fiscal consolidation,’ with the fiscal deficit for FY24 projected to be 5.9% of the GDP (6.4% for the current year).
  • The Finance Minister reiterated the commitment to reach a fiscal deficit below 4.5% by 2025-26.
  • Critic: essential schemes that provide a safety net and contribute to better human development outcomes have been underfunded.

 

Decreased allocations for social sector programs:

  • For subsidy: The BE for food subsidy is ₹1.97 lakh crore compared to the revised estimate (RE) of ₹2.8 lakh crore for 2022-23 (withdrawal of Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana)
  • For MGNREGS also seen a massive budget cut (BE for 2023-24 is ₹60,000 crore compared to the RE of ₹89,400 crore for 2022-23).
  • For programmes that provide nutritional support for women and children:
    • For Saksham Anganwadi, which includes anganwadi services, Poshan Abhiyan and a scheme for adolescent girls, allocation remains almost the same at ₹20,554 crore.
    • The school meals scheme, rechristened PM-POSHAN, has seen a slight decline.
    • Samarthya, the maternity entitlements scheme, has been allocated ₹2,582 crore compared to the previous year’s allocation of ₹2,622 crore (BE).
  • For other initiatives:
    • The allocations for old age, widow and disabled pensions under the National Social Assistance Programme have remained stagnant (around ₹9,600 crore).
    • The important areas in the social sector – education and health – have not seen any substantial increase.

 

Implications of these decreased allocations:

NegativePositive (As per the Accountability Initiative report)
●       Less allocations on MGNREGA/food subsidy/pensions can hinder demand revival.

●       The existing benefits under the NFSA does not compensate for the reduced quantity of grains with the withdrawal of the PMGKAY.

●       Affects human development outcomes – reduces productivity, employment opportunities.

●       The budgets for anganwadi services and mid-day meals are over 30% less than in 2011.

○        However, this is due to the decline in the number of beneficiaries.

○        This means, the per beneficiary allocations have not changed for years.

●       Funds can be diverted to capex, which contributes to job creation, especially for wage workers.

 

Way ahead:

  • To achieve the spending goals set by the national policies on education (6% of GDP) and health (2.5% of GDP), the allocations need to be doubled.
  • The removal of barriers to the timely and appropriate implementation of social sector programs is necessary, along with an increase in budgetary support.
    • For example, the app-based attendance monitoring system to ensure timely and error-free payments under MGNREGS.

 

Conclusion:

  • It must be acknowledged that spending on these various social sector efforts significantly contributes to both economic recovery and long-term improvements in people’s lives.
  • India cannot achieve the vision for Amrit Kaal without ensuring access to quality and affordable education, health, nutrition and social security.

 

 

Mains Links:

In order to enhance the prospects of social development, sound and adequate healthcare policies are needed particularly in the fields of geriatric and maternal health care. Discuss. (UPSC 2020)