The allocation for children in this year’s Finance Bill remains stagnant, with a dismal 3.32% of the total Budget being allocated to them—a trend that has sadly remained unchanged in the last few years. While the need is of a transformational change, allocations for children have seen an incremental increase—with Rs 71,305.35 crore this year from Rs 65,758.45 crore in 2016-17 Budget.
The Budget fails to meet the conservative suggestions of the recent National Plan of Action for Children (NPAC), which chalked out the target for children over five years—2017-21. The plan document recommended that at least 5% of the Budget must be spent on schemes and programmes directly related to children.
The increase has essentially been in four schemes related to children. These are Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, SSA (from Rs 22,500 crore to Rs 23,500 crore); Mid-Day Meal Scheme, MDM (Rs 9,700 crore to Rs 10,000 crore); Integrated Child Development Services, ICDS (Rs 14,000 crore to Rs 15,245 crore); and an increase of Rs 339 crore (from Rs 2,114.99 crore in 2016-17 to Rs 2,454.42 crore) in the NRHM flexible pool.
The ostensible focus on education, however, is deceptive, if we consider the enormity of the task at hand. We are struggling to meet the basic Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE), 2009, stated targets. For instance, having a boundary wall in all the schools and adhering to the pupil-teacher ratio. On one hand, we have over a lakh single teacher schools in the country, and on the other hand we still struggle with addressing quality teaching and learning at the school level.
The allocation to the SSA, when distributed among 10,80,757 elementary schools, is little. The Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA) sees only Rs 130 crore increase over last year. The RMSA has set out a target of ensuring universal access of secondary education by 2017 (gross enrolment rate, GER of 100%) and universal retention by 2020. But, according to the District Information System for Education (DISE) 2015-16, we are still struggling with 80% GER and 17% drop-out rate in secondary education. If these trends needs to change for secondary education, there has to be increased investment in the RMSA. For a country like ours with the potential demographic dividend, it is imperative that the policy response and Budget outlay in the domain of public education be accorded higher priority.
The focus on marginalised communities has been demonstrated by an increase in Budget allocation by 35%. It, however, is disheartening to see that no such increase is seen when it comes to children. There has been a decrease in the allocation to ministry of social justice and empowerment for equity and inclusion measures for SC and OBC kids, especially for education. The budget allocated by the ministry in pre- and post-matric fellowships and hostels for marginalised children decreased from Rs 985.5 crore to Rs 638.93 crore. The pre-matric scholarship for SCs, for instance, has been reduced drastically from Rs 459 crore to Rs 45 crore. Also, the allocation by the ministry of tribal affairs on umbrella scheme for education of ST children has marginally decreased over last year’s revised estimates.
The vision of change for our children as envisaged by the NPAC will not transform into reality if we fail to invest in the foundation years of our children. The increase of Rs 1,245 crore under ICDS catering to care, nutrition and education of 13.9 crore children under the age of six years is not as significant as it seems. Within this, Rs 500 crore is allocated for Mahila Shakti Centres. Ironically, while the NPAC has stated a path of change for children for the next five years, this year’s Budget allocation for children below six years remains the same as it was five years ago, i.e. in 2012-13. In absolute terms, the allocation was Rs 15,765 crore (2012-13) as against the Rs 15,245 crore this year. Also noteworthy is the fact that the 12th Five Year Plan proposed the allocation for ICDS to be Rs 1,23,580 crore, which is now a far-fetched dream.
ICDS reaches only 50% of children under age of six, and this increase is not enough to ensure universal coverage, let alone the vision of Anganwadi-cum-Creches becoming a reality. The allocation has hardly considered the impact of rising inflation, which will reflect on the quality of services provided at Anganwadis, already struggling with resource crunch and infrastructure woes.
The scheme for child protection saw a revival in the revised estimate stage last year (from Rs 397 crore to Rs 597 crore) and has seen further increase of Rs 50 crore in the 2017-18 Budget at Rs 648 crore. For the recently amended Juvenile Justice and the Child Labour Act mandate evolving new institutional mechanisms and requiring trained personnel, the allocated funds may not suffice. When crime against children has been increasing at alarming rates, we need more than a mere 0.05% of the Union Budget to be allocated to child protection. India also needs to dedicate a significant portion of its Budget for children for ensuring a robust preventive framework for child protection.
You may also like to watch this video
The Budget allocation leaves us to think: Whether the children have been considered as a critical stakeholder? The incremental increase is certainly not enough to bring about the transformational change we envisage for our future—our children.
Komal Ganotra is director, Policy, Research and Advocacy for CRY (Child Rights and You). Views are personal