Budget 2014: Social sector programmes face delivery hurdles

Written by Banikinkar Pattanayak | Updated: Feb 18 2014, 19:21pm hrs
The UPA, many say, rode back to power in 2009 through its rural wage scheme, and as it attempts to recreate the magic through another ambitious programme that promises legal entitlement to subsidised grains to two-thirds of the population, the same old complaints of leakages, poor implementation and strain on government finances persist.

Eight years after it was first introduced, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) has distinguished itself as the only major social sector initiative to have witnessed a cut in fund allocation even from the FY10 level.

Basing his argument on the NSSO data for FY12, economist Surjit Bhalla has said the scheme accounts for just 0.65% of the total rural employment. Earlier, Bhalla had said that as many as 60% of the beneficiaries were non-poor and they even got 17% more workdays than the poor.Moreover, while analysts are divided over the efficacy of the scheme, complaints of leakages, delays in payment, poor quality of generated assets and a shortage of labourers for crop harvesting have eroded its appeal.

The food security scheme, too, faces criticism, even before its fully implemented. A team of experts, headed by Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP) chairman Ashok Gulati, has said the government would have to shell out Rs 6,82,163 crore over three years to implement it. Analysts point out that the current PDS, even with a limited coverage, witnesses 40% pilferage a year.

And a scheme for transfer of cooking gas subsidy using aadhaar which could have helped stem such pilferage was last month kept in abeyance, becoming the latest reform casualty of UPA-II. Before the decision, the direct benefit transferon LPG already covered 17 million consumers across 291 of the 640 districts inIndia, with transactions amounting to Rs 3,000 crore.

While the spend on education and health has been raised consistently over the years, it still remains at a meager 1.29% and 0.51% of the GDP, respectively. The country achieved 99.89% net enrolment ratio for primary education in 2010-11, but the drop-out rate in classes I-V still remained at more than 28%.

While the maternal mortality ratio level has improved over the years, its still expected to reach 140 per 100,000 live births by 2015, missing the target of 109 under the millennium development goals. Child mortality rate, too, has declined, but still stands at 52 per 1,000 live births in 2012.

The gender budget has been receiving due attention of late, with allocation rising 112% since 2009-10 to Rs 97,533 crore. However, according to the Census data, the sex ratio remains low at 946. The daily wage rate of casual labour in the 15-59-year age group, engaged in public work other than under MGNREGA, was at least 15% lower for females than male workers.