NEW DELHI, March 12, 2015
The children have been short-changed most in the 2015-16 Union budget. Having finally done the math - and figured out what "devolution" actually means for the states - child rights organizations operating in Delhi have come together register protest against the massive cuts (from the 2014-15 budget estimates) that most schemes and programmes for children have taken.
"The share in the budget for children has been going down systematically. And this year, there has been a 29% cut in the budget for programme for children," says Enakshi Ganguly of HAQ-Centre for Child Rights. The cuts have been in schemes launched to address a range of issues including malnutrition, right to education, health, child protection and to support disadvantaged groups - the scheduled tribes and castes. Activists argue that while allocations in these areas have always been significantly less than what's required, the cuts will further ensure that some schemes can't be launched at all. And "devolution" to the states will not help.
"Regardless of devolution - that's obfuscation - the total money is decreasing," says Vandana Prasad of Working Group of Children Under Six. The Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) scheme has been hit by a 54.19% cut. The cut is "entirely bizarre" because its impact was just beginning to show -- the Rapid Survey on Children 2013-14 showed decline in malnourishment and stunting and had credited, primarily, the ICDS and National Rural Health Mission (NHRM) for it. The budget for NHRM - Reproductive and Child Health Flexible Pool has been cut to the tune of 21.63%.
The cuts in health and nutrition schemes have concerned activists most. "By cutting ICDS you're withdrawing support at the most dangerous time for malnutrition. The capacity to learn, emotional stability, all stand compromised," explains Devika Singh from Alliance for the Right to ECD (early childhood development).
Whether the states will be able to pick up the slack with the extra 10% from the divisible poor of central taxes is doubtful. "There are also pressures upon the states to reduce fiscal deficit. Rajasthan's come out with its state budgets and the activists are calling up to tell us there's no allocation to ICDS. So for that state, the cut remains at 50%," says Prasad. Subrat Das from the Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability agrees. "While there's a lot more autonomy on the resource envelope, the Central Assistance to States has almost stopped. The net increase in resources from 2014-15, for all states put together, is of about 42,000 crore, that's roughly 0.33% of GDP for 2015-16," says Das. And states aren't likely to spend the full amount of that increase - such as it is - on child-related programme. He adds that the states had written to the centre seeking extra funds for strengthening the judiciary, police and other systems. "States will have to re-prioritize their budgets drastically."
The Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and Mid-Day Meal scheme too have taken cuts - by 20.74% and 30.11% respectively. "We had met Arun Jaitley and had communicated to him what the requirements were. The BJP manifesto too promised 6% of the GDP for education. The Right to Education Act has not been properly implemented because of resource-crunch and now the deficit is being further increased. The education cess that was meant to be help fill the gaps has now become the main source of funds for education," says RTE Forum's Ambarish Rai. Jaitley had said in his speech that to ensure there's a senior secondary school within five kilometers of every child, "We need to upgrade over 80,000 secondary schools and add or upgrade 75,000 junior/middle, to the senior secondary level." Rai believes the allocation won't cover even primary level education adequately.
Allocations for pre-matric and post-matric scholarships for minorities, contribution to the Tribal Sub Plan andChildren most neglected in the 2015-16 Union Budget: Child rights organisationsand child protection scheme have all been cut. But as Ganguly points out, there's increase in allocation to programmes addressing child labour and a scheme to be run by NGOs has received an increase of 65%.