Not much for children in Budget

Written by Komal Ganotra | Updated: Jul 21 2014, 18:52pm hrs
The annual Budget exercise is the most important economic instrument of the government. It is also an expression of the governments intent, priorities and policy decisions. Proper implementation of policies or programmes is dependent on provision of adequate financial resources. When it comes to children, adequately investing in their present is crucial for their current and future development.

India has seen an increase in the investment pattern on child-specific budget components of the Union government from 2.39% in 2000-01 to 4.56% (Revised Estimates) of the Union Budget in 2013-14, although the allocations have been more or less stagnant over the last five years. Yet the picture is far from clear. In the 2014-15 Budget, child allocations stands at 4.52% with absolute amount increasing slightly from R72,496.21 crore in 2013-14 (Revised Estimates) to R81,075.26 crore in 2014-15 (Budget Estimates). This implies that the increase in child budget has not been proportionate to the year-on-year increase in the Union governments budget over the years. When translated into GDP figures, this comes to only 0.63% of GDP. This is far below the 6% GDP spending on education alone as promised in the partys election manifesto.

Sector-wise priorities of child-specific schemes may be viewed by categorising these into four groups(1) child education, (2) child development, (3) child health, and (4) child protection. Education-related schemes include those up to secondary education (not including higher education), while child development schemes include those related to early childhood care and nutrition, and the child protection category include programmes/schemes for protecting children from difficult situations.

If we analyse the total child budget in 2014-15 (BE) with respect to these categories, 72.3% is earmarked towards education. Similarly, the share of child development is seen as 23.1%. Again, 3.5% is earmarked for child health and 1.1% for child protection. The trend of distribution amongst these sectors has consistently been the same across the last five years.

In the education sector, there has been a marginal improvement in the allocation for primary education, as per the increase for Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan from R27,258 crore to R28,635 crore. New schemes include those for teacher training and adult education, as well as support to madrasas with allocations of R1,250 crore and R275 crore, respectively. In terms of policy intent, two schemes merit attentionthe Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao Yojana with an allocation of R100 crore, and the announcement on ensuring toilets and drinking water in girl schools.

In child health, a similar appreciation is seen, wherein the allocation has gone up from R2,040.90 crore to R2,914.44 crore. The major amount of R2,622.1 crore in the child health budget is allocated towards the NRHM-RCH Flexible Pool, in which the National Rural Health Mission, National Urban Health Mission, RCH and Routine Immunisation programmes have all been combined. As a consequence, the scope of allocation for other schemes has been negligible. The Budget has been encouraging in context of the announcement made regarding setting up of a National Programme on Malnutrition. The finance minister acknowledged the need for urgent action to improve the nutritional status of almost 50% of our child population. The challenges before India are immenseabout 44% of Indian children under five are underweight and 48% are stunted. Even on a global level, India is home to 42% of the worlds underweight children and 31% of the stunted.

Child protection, once again, remained a low priority area. The Integrated Child Protection Scheme, whose budget was reduced from R400 crore in 2012-13 to R300 crore in 2013-14, has been upgraded to R400 crore. The ICPS scheme was recently revised with higher financial provisions, so even this increased amount may not add up to address the critical child protection concerns. India witnesses a huge task with regard to provisions for child labour, trafficking, child marriage, reformation of children in conflict with law, and the rehabilitation of affected children. An overall issue with the child protection area remains the grossly inadequate financial allocations when compared to the number of children falling out of the safety and protective net.

Indias children continue to face multiple challenges, be it adverse sex ratio, high rates of malnourishment, low rates of immunisation, and even basic services such as safe water, sanitation, registration of birth, schools with adequate infrastructure and teachers, and opportunities for holistic development. The Budget has not laid much emphasis on social sectors such as education, health and protection. Children comprise 42% of Indias total population yet the allocations for this group remain grossly inadequate. It is time the government realises that the requirements of the children of the nation are immediate, and strives to make it a top priority in terms of its policies, schemes and budgetary allocations.

The author is director, Policy, Research and Advocacy, CRY.

Views are personal