A LATE START, BUT ALL IS NOT LOST
After ignoring the social sector, the Modi government is attempting a course correction midway through its tenure
IN THE DIN OF good economics and growth imperatives, the voice the marginalised seems to have got lost. When the Narendra Modi government came to power three years ago, riding on a wave of big promises and even bigger goals, it was hoped it would spread its largesse to sectors in desperate need of an overhaul. But the government’s social sector policy has been confusing at best, with some budgetary push of late but most of it falling short of target. Areas such as health, education, women and children, skill development and environment have been largely ignored or given cosmetic facelifts. Figures show most of the increased spend in sectors does not even cover inflation. At best, the allocations are helping the government play catch-up halfway through its tenure.
“As far as the social sector goes, the government seems to have lost sight of it and most of its policies are an eyewash,” says T.S.R. Subramanian, former cabinet secretary who headed the panel that drafted the new education policy. “India spends just 3.2 per cent of its GDP on education and today, the system is in a shambles. No one wants to reform it as it is akin to stirring a hornet’s nest. The government has also failed miserably to create new jobs as skill development remains poor.” In last year’s budget, funds for the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and the National Health Mission were increased by 2 per cent over the previous year. MGNREGA funds got a 4 per cent hike to Rs 47,499 crore. In the 2017 budget, MGNREGA was allocated Rs 48,000 crore, an increase of just over 1 per cent.
When the government announced its first budget in 2015, it lowered health spending by 13 per cent from the previous budget (2014), choosing instead to focus on other areas of the economy. In this year’s budget, according to KPMG, the government has allocated Rs 48,853 crore to healthcare which is roughly 1.3 per cent of the GDP, so it’s easy to see where health sits in the government’s priority list. As per the National Health Policy 2017, which lays down the arhitecture for providing universal care, the target of bringing public health expenditure up to 2.5 per cent of the GDP by 2018 has now been pushed back to 2025. To benchmark this, a country like the United States spends 17.1 per cent of its GDP on healthcare and Norway 9.6 per cent.
According to the Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability, the woman and child development ministry was allocated Rs 22,095 crore this year, which is merely 19 per cent more than what was allocated in the last UPA budget in 2014 and does not cover inflation or other cost increases. The one big bonanza under this ministry has been the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act 2017, allowing mothers 26 weeks of paid maternity leave.
Jobs remain a grey area despite the efforts of the skill development and entrepreneurship ministry. According to the India Employment Report 2016 by the Institute for Human Development, the country needs at least 16 million jobs over the next 15 years to bridge the employment gap. While the government has tried to distribute funds better in the 2017 budget, the social sector is still a long way from getting the attention it deserves.