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

India Today - - 30 YEARS OF MODI GOVERNMENT | SOCIAL SECTOR - By Prachi Bhuchar

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.

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