Investments in elementary education have been grossly inadequate for the Right to Education to be implemented in true letter and spirit
While this Budget may have emerged as positive and reformist, its impact on children is not that easy to ascertain. The allocation towards children in 2015-16 has declined substantially, both in absolute amount and as a proportion of the Budget. In absolute terms, it has decreased from R81,075.26 crore in 2014-15 (BE) to R57,918.51 crore in 2015-16 (BE)—a sharp decline. As a proportion of total expenditure of the Union government, it has declined from 4.52% in 2014-15 (BE) to 3.26% in 2015-16 (BE).
The decreased share for children is due to major cuts in the budgetary allocation to school education, Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) as well as child health. It is worrisome that school education, which has seen a consistent investment post the implementation of the Right to Education Act, has substantially decreased this year, indicating the possibility of a serious impact on the reach as well as quality of education for children.
In absolute allocations, there have been significant reductions across all educational schemes in the current year, including key flagship schemes such as the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) and the Mid Day Meal scheme. The allocation to SSA has been reduced from R27,758 crore (BE) in 2014-15 to R22,000 crore—a decline of over 20%—whereas the allocation to the Mid Day Meal scheme has been reduced from R13,215 crore (BE) in 2014-15 to just R9,236 crore (30.11% decline). This is at the time when the government has not been able to achieve both the three-year and five-year milestones for the Right to Education Act.
The ongoing scheme for setting up 6,000 model schools at the block level, with R3,433 crore utilisations from 2010-11 to 2013-14, and an allocation of R1,200 crore in 2014-15 (BE) has been delinked from the Centre’s support. This means states who wish to continue investing in these schools will have to reallocate amounts from their increased resources resulting from the recommendations of 14th Finance Commission.
The status of a specific scheme launched last year for supporting educational development, including teacher training and adult education, with an allocation of R1,250 crore, remains ambiguous. The 2015-16 Budget documents show that no spending was done from this sum, and in 2015-16 no amount has been allocated against this scheme. Yet the ministry has retained this in the list of schemes that will be supported by the Union government, alongside others such as SSA (financed from education cess), Mid Day Meal, and the scheme for providing education to madrasas/minorities, allocations for which have been increased from R275 crore in 2014-15 (BE) to R375 crore in 2015-16 (BE).
The ministry has also claimed that states would have to match the reductions in the above mentioned schemes from the additional funds provided to them through 14th Finance Commission. This, however, needs to be considered in the context detailed below.
According to the 2013 Analysis of Budgeted Expenditure on Education document, the Centre’s share of the total revenue expenditure on education in the country was at 27.09% as compared to states/UTs that contribute 72.91% of the total revenue expenditure on education (2012-13 Budget Estimates Revenue Account). There are wide variations in the budgeted expenditure on education as percentage of GSDP.
Mizoram is the highest spender on education at over 9% of its GSDP while the percentage of expenditure on education in Delhi, Haryana, Gujarat, Punjab, West Bengal, Goa, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Karnataka, Jharkhand, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Chhattisgarh is below the national average percentage of expenditure on education as percentage of GDP. Given this trend, the expectation that states will emphasise equal priority to children’s issues, especially education, and match up to the reduced amounts from the Union Budget may not work out to a full extent. Further reduction in central share of education expenditure will mean restricted bargaining from the Centre to state education departments, with adverse consequences on regular monitoring, governance and accountability mechanisms.
Thus, investments in elementary education have been grossly inadequate for the Right to Education to be implemented in true letter and spirit.
Leaving a large portion of the implementation of education funds on states will lead to a fractured framework. Education requires a holistic approach with structured flagship schemes to lead the programme both for elementary and higher education. Budgetary allocations related state-level disparities will even give rise to serious imbalance in the infrastructure and quality of education across different parts of the country.
By Komal Ganotra
The author is director, Policy Research & Advocacy, CRY