India is one of the most unequal societies in the world. The inequality in India is deep, entrenched and historically rooted. It is multi-dimensional, Economic inequalities between top and bottom segments of the pyramid are reflected in their respective share of national income, assets and wealth and consumption. The share of top 10% in total national income is 57.1% who hold 77% of national wealth while that of the share of bottom 50% in national income stands at 13.1% whose share of national wealth is a mere 6% (Oxfam, 2021; Deshpande, 2022). The share of top 20% in national consumption expenditure is 44.70% while that of the bottom 20% is 8.10%. As for assets, inequality in per capita land holding in 2002 was 0.73%, per capita asset holding was 0.65 and per capita holding of financial assets was 0.99% (Himanshu, 2015). Inequalities are increasing further so much that as per state inequality report, those earning Rs.3 lakh a year belong to top 10% of country’s wage earners. The condition of bottom most cannot be imagined in such a situation. The bottom 50 percent has a share of only 22% of total salary Income. The position of wage earners is dismal with slow farm wage growth in nominal terms from an average of 6.6% in fiscal 2021 to 5.7% in fiscal 2022, below the inflation rate while non-farm wage growth reduced to 3.2% from 6.4% (Chauhan and Jafferlot, 2022). Inflation is affecting the poor most because the commodities whose prices are increasing constitute a major part of their budget.
Social inequalities are manifested in differences in social status, human development attainments, access to public services and opportunities and share in power between social groups based on caste, ethnicity, religion, gender and physical ability. The different nature of inequalities interacts with each other and has a bearing on the benefits that the individuals receive from process of growth and development (Himanshu, 2015). These inequalities have persisted notwithstanding the affirmative action taken to reduce them, thereby marginalising these groups and their social exclusion. While Covid-Pandemic touched all sections of society, it did so differentially. Its impact on the poor and the marginalised was more crippling than other sections of the poor and the middle class. 120 million jobs were lost of which 92 million were in the informal sector. In 2021, as per FAO, India was home to 200 million undernourished people. The number of poor doubled from 55 million in 2020 to 120 million in 2021. Among those who committed suicide in 2021, largest number was of daily wage workers followed by self-employed and unemployed. (Mander, 2022) But India’s rich economically gained, increased their net worth and the number of dollar billionaires increased from 102 in 2020 to 142 in 2021. (Oxfam, 2021) Three-fifths of India’s top 100 added $1 billion more to their worth in 2021 from preceding year (Mander, 2020). There was sharp increase in corporate profitability with some doubling them (EPW, 2022). Within the Corporate segment, large firms have taken market share from smaller / informal firms where 80% of the labour force works. The latter were hit by inflation and rising commodity prices. (Bhandari, 2022). In contrast, lives and livelihood of those at the bottom have become more precarious and vulnerable due high unemployment and inadequate safety nets. The overall pick up in the economy does not provide any relief due to its uneven nature (K-shaped) and slump in rural demand.
This situation required focusing on reducing inequalities upfront. The Budget is an important tool to do this through public spending and taxation. Public expenditure is needed to create rural and urban employment, address decline in work participation rates, particularly for women, revive micro, small and medium units (particularly the unregistered ones), increase welfare spending to include food security and nutrition, health care, social safety nets such as cash transfers / free rations to the very poor, increase in social security pension. For this to happen, the budget was required to increase overall expenditure which besides relieving the vulnerable sections of their distress would also accelerate growth by tackling slump in rural consumption. The budget disappoints on this front. The total budget expenditure (FY 2022-23) is Rs. 39.45 lakh crore which is just 4.6% higher than RE (revised estimate) Rs. 37.7 lakh cr in 2021-22. This is even lower than the inflation rate and in real terms the expenditure change is negative. As a proportion of GDP also it is likely to decline sharply which would adversely affect economic recovery (Patnaik, 2022). As for safety net, which is provided by subsidies, the budget has made a huge cut of 27% which includes expenditure on fertiliser, food, midday meal, crop insurance, MGNREGS etc. (Chidambaram, 2022) Even the projected and much hyped 35% increase in capital expenditure supposedly for accelerating growth by crowding in private investment is unlikely to materialise because up to Nov. 2021 less than 50% of the planned expenditure had been incurred under this head in 2021-22. Besides, Capital expenditure would not help in boosting aggregate demand which depends on expenditure as a whole (Patnaik, 2022). Thus neither the aggregate expenditure, nor capital expenditure provide credible promise to boost growth and generate employment (Kumar, 2022).
Creation of Employment
The most pressing needs of the poor and particularly the marginalised groups are employment, food security and access to health care in that order. The situation in respect of unemployment is the most serious of the three. The violent agitation against Government’s Agniveer Scheme drastically reducing prospects by 3/4 of employment at the level of Jawans (Tour of Duty) in the defence services and earlier violent agitation in respect of Railway recruitment was a reflection of this frustration. India’s labour force participation rate (LFPR) has fallen to just 40% from a low 47% in 2016 as against world over LFPR of 60%. It has been sliding over the last 10 years. LFPR represents demand for jobs in the economy. Lower LFPR implies that the youth is sitting out of the job market due to lack of hope of a job and is reflective of the stress of unemployment as the economy is not creating sufficient jobs. (Misra, 2020). Worse, even the small recovery in employment has been accompanied by informatization, lower wages and adverse working conditions. (Deshpande, 2022) Government’s principal strategy to create employment is to increase capital expenditure by 35.4% on creating and upgrading fixed assets. While capital expenditure on infrastructure may benefit economic activity, it does not have effect on expanding employment because of its capital intensive nature and long gestation. Most construction jobs which are employment intensive are created in residential and commercial projects not in large infrastructure projects (Basole, 2021). A more decentralised, small scale capital spending on social sector infrastructure may have had greater employment potential. Besides not all capital expenditure is for infrastructure. It also includes Rs. 51,971 crore towards settlement of guaranteed liabilities of Air India (Deshpande, 2022).
Government is in fact claiming that as per NSO survey, unemployment rate in 2020-21 has come down to 4.2% from 4.8% in 2019-20 implying that jobs are being created. But this does not reflect the reality of the post lockdown distress of lost jobs, reverse migration and destitution. Besides, if unemployment rate was coming down it should show in increased GDP growth rate. But GDP growth rate declined consistently from 2017-18 to 2020-21. A lower GDP cannot be associated with generation of employment. (Sabnavis, 2022) Further, if jobs are being created, it would lead to increase in income generation which in turn should increase consumption. The increase in consumption should be reflected in consumer goods demand. But consumer durable goods have been reporting negative or marginally positive growth for the last 5 years which is indicative of lack of purchasing power and is therefore, linked to lack of jobs. (Sabnavis, 2022) Government has also been euphoric about impressive growth of start-ups which have been propelled by the era of cheap money and negative interest rates (Bakshi, 2022) to generate employment. But this bubble is bursting as many start-ups have been, of late, issuing pink slips (retrenchment orders) to their employees estimated to number around 10,000. Most start-ups (80-85%) fold up in the first 2-3 years for suffering losses besides other reasons. (Bakshi, 2022) These start-ups cannot be a source of stable employment. (Sabnavis, 2022) The violent agitation of youth forced government to make an announcement post budget that 10 lakh persons would be recruited by the government to boost employment which would be around 30% of existing number of government employees. This is unlikely to assuage the frustrated youth as the scale of recruitment cannot materialise in a short period of 6-8 months. This is because recruitment for government jobs is a time taking exercise. If it does materialise, it would be a reversal of government policy because since economic reforms, Government has been consciously reducing staff significantly not filling up vacant posts, combining jobs to reduce their number and outsourcing group jobs such as those of drivers. Besides, a very large number of government employees are hired by Central Government on contract bases. In fact, contract employees have increased enormously from 13.64 lakh in 2019-20 to 24.30 lakh in 2021 (Yadav, 2022). These contract employees do not have secure tenure and all the social security benefits which permanent employees enjoy. Even so, while the announcement to fill vacant posts is welcome, it would increase the salary bill enormously for which provision has to be made in the subsequent budgets. How this would reconcile with government’s effort to reduce fiscal deficit is not clear. This is also likely to face other challenges (Sabnavis, 2022).
The other Government strategy to boost employment is by providing liquidity and credit guarantees to MSMEs (Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises) which employ close to 80% of country’s workforce. (Deshpande, 2022) They are cash strapped and credit starved. But most of the sector is informal and unregistered. There will be limited uptake of such loans / guarantees as they depend upon informal credit sources with high interest rates. This facility would be availed of mostly by capital intensive industries. MSMEs need payroll support and direct cash and kind transfers to informal workers (Deshpande, 2022; Paliath and Raman, 2021). Besides, the functioning of MSMEs are crippled by delayed payments by buyers who are often big companies and public sector units leading to business forgone due to disrupted cash flows. Huge number of complaints by such enterprises have been registered but the pace of their resolution is very slow. (Sampat and Singh, 2022)
As the poor need immediate employment to sustain themselves, this can only come from Public employment like MGNREGS, the crucial safety net of the last resort. That’s why there has been a consensus among economists and even industrialists that MGNREGS should be expanded by enhancing its allocation and an urban version of this programme should be introduced to relieve distress among the urban poor. Far from accepting this suggestion, MGNREGS allocation witnessed no hike from last year’s BE of Rs. 73000 cr. The Economic Survey analysing data on demand for work under MGNREGS pointed out 1) MGNREGS employment peaked during nationwide lock down in 2020 (ii) the demand for MGNREGS work has stabilised after the second covid wave (iii) aggregate employment is still higher than pre-pandemic level (Sharma, 2022). In fact 2.61 cr households availed of work under the scheme in May 2022 which is significantly higher than the preceding year (2.22 cr) and even pre-pandemic level of 2.1 cr in May 2019 indicating that reliance on the scheme has only been growing and not enough productive jobs are being created. In urban areas, Periodic Labour Force Survey shows that unemployment rate among youth (15-29 years) remained high at 20.2% during January-March 2022 (EPW, 2022).
This budget allocation of Rs. 73000 cr is the same as budget estimate (BE) for the fiscal year 2021-22 but lower than the revised estimate (RE) of Rs. 98000 cr. and actual expenditure of Rs. 1,11,170 crore during 2020-21. Due to the rise in demand for work, the budgetary allocation under MGNREGS was increased by 25.5% in 2021-22 at RE stage. Besides the increased demand, pending liabilities related to material and administrative components as well as wage arrears of unskilled workers require a higher allocation. Even if additional funds are provided at the RE stage to meet increased demand, the delayed wage payment caused by low initial allocation has the effect of reducing the demand for work as workers feel discouraged to apply for work (Patnaik, 2022). The disastrous effects of shortage in allocation was evident in the last October when MGNREGS had to discontinue in many states. Further, Government has also failed to provide statutory guaranteed employment of 100 days. As reported, on an average, 51.52 days, 48.4 days and 50.88 days of work were provided under the programme in 2020-21, 2019-20, and 2018-19 respectively reflecting the mismatch between demand and supply (CBGA, 2022). A study has estimated that ensuring 100 days of work per household under the programme would require about Rs. 2.64 lakh crore including for clearing the huge gap in arrears of around Rs. 21,000 cr. (People’s Democracy, 2022)
Wage rates in MGNREGS
The rural poor wage labourer has been short-changed not merely by the prospects of lack of work due to reduced allocation but also on wage rates for MGNREGS which were revised based on consumer price index for an Agricultural labourers (CPI-A) by the Central Government. This revision works out to less than 5% increase in 21 out 34 states (Sharma, 2022). But actual wage rates paid by various states are even lower as the legal minimum wages for unskilled workers are found to be much higher than wage rates under MGNREGS – on an average between 50-75% in 12 states (CBGA-2022). However, with all these limitations, while the rural poor have some help to fall back upon in MGNREGS, the urban poor have none. Urban version of MGNREGS has been suggested to fill the gap. But the Government has ignored the idea altogether. But some States such as Kerala, Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Odisha, Himachal Pradesh have been more sensitive to this idea and have introduced an urban employment scheme on the pattern of MGNREGS. However, the scale of employment by States would be low given the paucity of resources. Only a Central government can provide a nation-wide urban employment guarantee.
Underutilisation of Allocation
The rural poor are adversely affected not merely by insufficient allocations for the livelihood support programme but also by underutilisation of the amount allocated. A case in point is PMGSY (Pradhan Mantri Gramin Sadak Yojna) which besides creating rural infrastructure, also provides employment, generates income and enhances rural connectivity. As per information provided by the Government to the Parliament as of July 15, 2021, under phase I of the scheme 12.25%, under phase II 26.5% and in phase III 78.3% of the allocation were unspent. This robs the poor of relief they would have got by participation in income generation opportunities from better connectivity.
PDS emerged as the most effective safety net, particularly the Prime Minister’s Garib Kalyan Yojna (PMGKY) which provided free food grains 5 kg of wheat / rice per month (increased to 10 kg in 2020) to 800 million people (Damodaran and Agarwal, 2022). An IMF working paper claims that this reduced consumption inequality. Gini coefficient in consumption declined to 29.4 during 2020-21 from 30.4 in 2019-20 (Dhasmana, 2022; ENS, 2022). It also kept extreme poverty low. While the claim of reduced inequality and poverty has been questioned on methodological grounds, the importance of PDS cannot be overemphasised as an effective safety net (ENS, 2022). Kerala provided free food kits to all ration card holders till August 2021. These kits included coconut oil, pulses, sugar, salt, tea, coriander, turmeric, chilli powder and soap over and above PDS grains of wheat and rice. But PDS allocation in the budget has been cut by 27% despite India slipping to 101 in the Global Hunger Index. Combined with it, the reduced financial support to MGNREGS would have a sharp adverse effect on the food intake of the poor households. Far more serious, with depletion of food grain stocks resulting from PMGKY and exports, and reduced procurement of wheat because of crop having been damaged by spike in temperature in March, expansion of PDS is in huge danger (Damodaran and Agarwal, 2022). The Budget did not announce continuation of PMGKY after its expiry in March though subsequently it extended it up to September 2022. But its further extension is in doubt due to reduced buffer stock. This at a time when its expansion is needed to cover new entrants to below poverty time from 80 cr to 100 cr in line with NFSA (Save the Children, 2022).
As for health, there is huge class divide in health outcomes of the rich and the poor strata and social divide between the social privileged castes and the lower castes. The latter fall ill more often due to poverty, lack of adequate food and nutrition, unhealthy living conditions and unsafe working environment. They also lack resources to have access to private medical care and solely depend upon public health facilities and, worse, on unqualified medical practitioners. The rich and socially privileged on the other hand have access to the best medical facilities in the private sector. The public health system has been deteriorating due to weak infrastructure, human resource shortage, inadequate financial allocation, high patient load against available resources leading to overcrowding etc. Pandemic glaringly brought out how the public health system crumbled under its pressure. Persistent lack of sufficient investment over the years despite recommendations of experts and incentivising private sector expansion of health facilities have been responsible for this situation. It has been estimated that around Rs. 70,000 cr have been spent by people out of pocket during pandemic which could have been saved if public health system had provided necessary services. (Rao, 2022) There is an overwhelming consensus on the need to strengthen public health system. The Fifteenth Finance Commission recommended higher investment in rural and urban primary health care, a nationwide disease surveillance system from block level to national institutes, a larger health work force and augmentation of critical care capacity of hospitals. But this recommendation has not been acted upon so far.
The budget allocation shown under health is misleading as water, sanitation, nutrition and air pollution are now clubbed with conventional components of medical health (Deshpande, 2022; Rao, 2022). This camouflages underfunding of conventional components of health. Excluding allocations for social determinants of health like water, sanitation etc., the budget allocation for health proper is a mere increase of 16.4% over the 2021-22 but when compared to revised estimates for 2021-22, there has not been any major change. The share of health budget in the total union budget has remained stagnant more or less over the past few years and in comparison to 2021-22, there has in fact been a decline. A similar trend is observed in the share of health budget as a percentage of GDP (CBGA, 2022). Within the health segment, the budget provision for National Health Mission (NHM) which provides resources for comprehensive primary health care component including reproductive and child health, disease control programmes has been increased by mere 7.4% from the allocation of 2021-22. The scheme’s share in the total health budget in fact has come down from 48% in 2021-22 (BE) to 42% in 2022 -23 (BE) (CBGA, 2022). This deprioritisation was unexpected in the context of experience of Covid Pandemic. It appears that the Government focus has shifted from health as Covid Pandemic has been brought under control (Reddy, 2022). Instead, the big ticket announcement in the health budget is the Digital Health Mission to improve data collection and medical and health records. Digitisation does not help people who need emergency and critical care. What the budget provision required was to provide a strong financial and policy support to increase availability of doctors and paramedics, access to medicines and diagnostics and expansion of services.
This has not happened though the budget for the public hospitals has received notable increase in allocation from Rs. 7400 cr in 2021-22 (BE) to Rs. 10,000 cr in 2022-23 (BE) which is welcome though inadequate considering the requirements. The other major announcement in the budget speech was establishment of 23 Tele Health Centres of Excellence for mental health but supported only by a nominal increase in the budget provision from Rs. 597 cr to Rs. 610 cr. Mental health is hugely neglected within the public health system though it affects 6-8% of the population and costs $1.03 trillion to the economy. (Rao, 2022) Its implementation is affected by acute shortage of trained manpower, expensive drugs, scarce services unavailable in most parts of the country. Tackling it requires implementation of Mental Health Act with substantial financial allocation, expansion of infrastructure, creation of trained human resources and drug availability (Rao, 2022). Further, the flagship insurance scheme Ayushman Bharat – PMJAY (Prime Ministers Jan Arogya Yojna) has received no increase in allocation despite the huge unmet demand particularly post pandemic. Worse, only Rs. 3100 cr out of allocated Rs. 6400 cr last year under the scheme was spent. (CBGA, 2022) This indicates that there are bottlenecks in utilisation of funds which need to be sorted out. In fact, the current net of insurance cover should be extended to include more people especially those in the unorganised sector so as to prevent them foregoing seeking health care due to lack of resources.
India has faced malnutrition problem for a long time which is mainly rooted in the high level of poverty of the population. This is reflected in child stunting, wasting and underweight children, anaemia among both children and adults notwithstanding the schemes implemented to address them particularly for children nutrition. Covid-Pandemic induced lockdowns and disruption in anganwadi services deprived children of access to regular and nutrition meals. Health system preoccupied with Pandemic cases severely affected service delivery and critical health and nutrition intervention in respect of children and lactating mothers. Phase I of the National Health and Family Welfare Survey – 5 (Dec 2020) showed that compared to NFHS – 4 childhood stunting wasting and proportion of underweight children had worsened in many states though Phase II of the survey (2021) showed reduced incidence of these problems. However, severe wasting and also the proportion of overweight children has increased slightly though the latter receives no attention in policy. Besides, anaemia in both children and adults is on the rise. Government’s response has been to restructure and rationalise nutritional schemes for children into Saksham Anganwadi and POSHAN 2.0 and the scheme for lactating mothers to merge with women empowerment scheme called Samarthya. Whatever may be the rationale for such restructuring, what matters is allocation of resources. In this respect, there was a decline in allocation under both these schemes by 18.5% and 7% in 2021-22 (BE) respectively as compared to combined allocation for the restructured programmes in 2020-21. In the current year’s budget, there is a measly increase of 0.79% and 3.97% respectively over the preceding year. When inflation is taken into account, these allocations would be lower than previous years in real or constant prices (CBGA, 2022) which shows lack of seriousness to address the problem. Supplementary Nutrition Programme (SNP) which provides hot cooked meals to children aged 3-6 years for 300 days and Take Home Ration for children aged 6 months to 3 years, pregnant women and lactating mothers suffered from inadequate coverage even before Covid-19 and this situation continues. This situation is also true of nutrition programme for adolescent girls. There is need for higher allocation of resources particularly to expand coverage of additional supplementary nutrition for children from marginalised groups (CBGA, 2022). Nutrition Programmes also suffer from low cost norms. There is a significant gap between estimated cost of supplying special nutrition and actual allocation. Cost norms have not been revised since 2017 (CBGA, 2022). The demotivation of anganwadi workers who provide nutritional health services to children is also a factor in quality of implementation. They have been agitating for better service conditions (regularization of service, higher remuneration, social security). But the issue has been ignored in this budget too. The Mid Day Meal scheme for school children which was also disrupted during the ‘severe’ phase of Pandemic due to shutdown of schools has received a further blow by reducing its allocation in 2022-23 (BE) to Rs. 10,204 cr from Rs. 11,500 cr in 2021-22 (BE).
Water and Sanitation
Water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) are major social determinants of health and nutrition.This was highlighted by Pandemic too. Half of all undernutrition cases are associated with diarrhoea and infection that result from unsafe water, poor sanitation and unhygienic behaviour. The provision of Drinking Water has been prioritised in the budget 2022-23 with allocation for the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation getting an increase from Rs. 60,030 (in 2021-22 BE) to Rs. 67,221 in 2022- 23 (BE). Of this, there has been a 19.9% increase in allocation for the flagship scheme Jal Jeevan Mission (JJM) which mandates to provide piped water to all households. However, allocation for the scheme in 2021-22 (BE) of Rs. 50,011 was underspent and therefore curtailed to Rs. 45,011 at RE stage. During two years of the scheme, only 29% of the target beneficiaries and 8.3 lakh government schools have been provided with piped water as of Jan 1, 2022. The scheme has witnessed slow pace of utilisation of previous year’s allocation with only 26% of the allocated amount released and a large amount of unspent amount lying with States. (CBGA, 2022) Evidently, there are administrative and operational bottlenecks in absorption of resources which have not been sorted out.
While increased allocation of Drinking Water is welcome, it has been done at the cost of sanitation. There is a 20% decline in the allocation for Swachh Bharat Mission (Rural) in the 2022-23 budget (BE) compared to the preceding year (2021-22 BE). The allocation for SBM (Urban) has not changed from 2021-22 (BE) to 2022-23 (BE). Considering that many States continue to have sanitation coverage below the national average of 70%, the deprioritisation of the scheme in financial allocation is regressive. (CBGA, 2022) SBM (U) has a huge task of waste management which is a capital intensive activity. The stagnant allocation would slow down this task in phase II of the scheme.
Marginalised groups consisting of women, Children, SCs/STs, minorities, and Persons with disability constitute the largest social collectivity in Indian Society. One would ordinarily expect that their numerical strength would be adequately and appropriately reflected in the flow of resources in the budget to address their urgent needs. But these groups lack adequate voice in decision making and have no powerful interlocutors in the governance process. The budget document glaringly reflects this marginalisation, despite the fact that these groups suffered policy shocks – demonetisation, ill prepared GST and decelerated growth even before the Pandemic. The Pandemic has affected them disproportionately and differentially on several fronts – unemployment, loss of income and wages, indebtedness, food insecurity, lack of access to health services and risk of violence. As members of these groups overwhelmingly work in informal sector with no social protection, they required priority attention to relieve them of their distress. But there was complete invisibility in the Budget speech of the Finance Minister about their needs except a passing reference to a change in the provision of insurance for the disabled, E-vidya television channels for school children to address learning loss and early childhood development scheme implying that Government does not consider their major concerns serious enough to claim attention. The budget therefore, reinforces their marginalisation.
Take the case of women. There is a mechanism called Gender Budgeting Statement (GBS). It reflects budget spending by various Ministries which benefit women from their schemes and programmes. The total outlay in the GBS of 4.3% of the union budget is a decline over the previous year (CBGA, 2022). There is, however, an increase in outlay of 11.5% from Rs. 1,53,3263 cr in 2021-22 (BE) to Rs. 1,71,006.5 cr in 2022e-23 (BE). This increase is deceptive as it is due to increased allocations in composite expenditure schemes in Part ‘B’ of the GBS which do not exclusively target women and therefore, their beneficial impact on them is notional. Part A of the budget is exclusively targeted at them. The budget under this part has increased by merely 6% and is largely for intervention in the police establishment (CBGA, 2022) presumably to address cases of violence though the increase is inadequate given the scale of violence faced by women.
But the most burning issue in respect of women is very low participation in labour force. It is among the lowest in the world. As per CMIE, male LFPR was 67.4%, the female LFPR was just 9.4% (Misra, 2022), though the latter has slightly increased this year. But this increase is largely in low quality work in agriculture and unpaid family work and not gainful employment. (CBGA, 2022). PLFS (Periodic Labour Force Survey) July 2020 – June 2021 confirmed this (Magazine, 2022). In contrast to men, there was absolute decline in the number of women employed in 2021 compared to 2019. This shows that economy has not been creating jobs to increase their participation. MGNREGS has the greatest potential is this regard given the constraints such as law and order, lack of efficient public transport, violence, societal norms that women face. (Misra, 2022) But, low allocation for MGNREGS in the budget would not only fail to expand women’s participation but would even reduce it. Government’s approach to increase women employment is through provision of Emergency Credit linked Guarantees such as Emergency Credit Scheme for MSMEs and Institutional credit for self-employment under MUDRA. As for the former, only 20% MSMEs are owned by women. A large segment of MSMEs is informal and unregistered which would find it extremely difficult to avail of loans and guarantees from Institutional sources (Paliath and Raman, 2021). Besides, there is no earmarking for women entrepreneurs in credit linked schemes. Women like other marginalised groups face barriers in accessing credit due to bias, lack of collateral and absence of landholding. Women are also concentrated in the informal sector and lack access to social security and safety nets. National Social Assistance Programme is the only social security scheme. But it is only for older person (60 & above) and widows. The scheme also suffers from inadequate coverage, very low amount of Rs. 300/- (not revised since inception), huge unmet demand, irregular payment. The scheme has received a measly increase in allocation of 5% which would fail to expand coverage or increase unit cost. Even frontline workers like Ashas, Aganwadi Workers, Helpers are without social security. A health insurance scheme was started in 2021 for a health cover of Rs. 50 lakh for them. But the allocation under the scheme has been slashed leaving them vulnerable. (CBGA, 2022)
Violence against women both within the family and outside is the most debilitating feature of their vulnerability overtaking employment and health concerns. There was an increase of 30% in complaints registered with National Commission for Women in 2021 as compared to 2020. (CBGA, 2022) But the allocations for schemes which provide protection against violence are underfunded and suffer from underutilisation of funds as well. As against Rs.6,212.9 cr allocated under Nirbhaya Fund which provides financial resources for such schemes, only Rs. 4138.5 cr has been disbursed and only Rs. 2,921.9 cr utilised. Far more serious, the key schemes for addressing violence against women like one step centres, women Helpline, Swadhar Greh, Ujjwala and working women’s hostel which were clubbed under the umbrella schemes, Sambal and Samarthya have received cuts in their allocation. (CBGA, 2022)
Pandemic undid many gains registered in respect of vulnerability of children – nutrition, school enrolment, rescue of child labour and preventing child marriage. This called for higher allocation to restore the pre-pandemic status as an immediate response.
The total outlay for welfare of children in the budget 2022-23 increased by 8% but as a percentage of union budget its share declined from 2.4% to 2.35% over the preceding year. (CBGA, 2022)
Two schemes concerning children were announced in the budget but are not backed by any budgetary allocation. One is Early Childhood Development Scheme with creation of two lakhs New Generation Anganwadi Centres. This type of announcement is meant only for gathering publicity. As it is, even the existing scheme is not fully implemented because 71,000 posts of Anganwadi workers are vacant and 12,265 anganwadi centres are non-operational. The marginal increase of 0.77% in the budget outlay for Saksham Anganwadis is not adequate even for running existing and sanctioned Anganwadis. (CBGA, 2022-23) let alone create New Generation on Anganwadi Centres
Allocation for child health has been reduced by 6.08% which would affect immunisation of children while reduced allocation for Mid-Day Meals (PM – PoSHAN) would affect process of children returning to school after a disruption of nearly 2 years.
Covid 19 sharply brought out the digital divide in school going children and witnessed closure of schools and dropouts of students. The budget provision for addressing it in the Department of Education, Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), however, was reduced by 20% last year. The increase in allocation this year nearly restores this cut. But the allocations are still lower than those at pre-pandemic level. (CBGA, 2022- 23) The allocation also does not take into account resources required to address the huge learning gap revealed by National Achievement Survey. Also, the reduction in Pre-Matric Scholarship Scheme by 31% would severely affect children from poorer and marginalised groups to join and complete schooling and acquire foundational knowledge. A substantial 98% increase in Yashaswi Scholarship (bright students) though welcome shows the lopsided priority. The increase though small in allocation for Eklavya Model Residential Schools which would incentivise poor ST children from remote to pursue education is also welcome.
Exploitation of and violence against children are a huge concern which is reflected in increase in child labour, child trafficking, child abuse, cybercrimes, orphaned children due to Covid-19. But the schemes for protection of children used to receive lowest priority within the budget for child welfare over the years and were underfunded. The increase in the allocation of 44.70% in the allocation this year is a welcome change. This increase in allocation is largely for Mission Vatsalya which caters to both protection and welfare through institutional and non-institutional care of children. But National Child Labour Programme for Rescue and Rehabilitation of Child Labour has faced a huge cut of 75% over the previous year. Similarly, despite the increase of 260% in cybercrimes against children, the allocation for the scheme has also received a cut of 76.7% over the previous year (CBGA, 2022-23). The participation of children in their own development and protection has received no attention at all in the policy architecture for children.
Overall, the share of spending on children has been declining over the years and child budgeting has been reduced to a mere reporting exercise rather than a commitment to higher public spending on children in all schemes.
With the discontinuation of Planning process and merger of plan and non-plan expenditure, the Tribal sub plan and Scheduled Caste Sub- Plan which mandated ear marking of fund allocation to these groups in the total plan budget or as a percentage of budget of each Ministry / Department in proportion to their population, was renamed as ‘Development Action Plan for SCs’ and ‘Development Action Plan for STs’. In the new arrangement, earmarked allocation for those groups is shown against centrally sponsored schemes / central sector schemes of each Department / Ministry in the union budget. But those earmarked allocations would benefit SCs/STs only if the expenditure is exclusively targeted at these groups and spent on need-based schemes, in consultation with them.
The total allocation for welfare of SCs in statement 10A of the budget has shown an increase of over 16000 cr in 2022-23 (BE) (CBGA, 2022) from the provision in 2021-22 (BE). This larger allocation does not necessarily benefit SCs as it is not targeted at them exclusively. Only their share in the central sector and centrally sponsored schemes directly benefit them. This outlay is only 8.8% of the total budgetary allocation for the schemes as against their population of 16%.
The most important highlight of the budget this year is the substantially higher allocation of Rs.5660 cr. for Post Matric Scholarship scheme, the flagship scheme of the nodal Ministry for SCs. But this higher allocation has to be seen against the squeezing of funds over the years and its virtual stoppage in 2022 despite the fact that the scheme has been operational since 1944 and is a committed liability of fund sharing with State governments. Even this high allocation Rs. 5660 cr. is not sufficient to clear the entire arrears due to the state governments let alone meet the expanding demand of the eligible students. Besides, the current unit cost of scholarship is low not having been revised since 2010 and income ceiling for eligibility not revised since 2013-14. Both requires being raised taking inflation into account. But, shockingly, in contrast to Post Matric Scholarship scheme, allocation for Pre-Matric Scholarship scheme has been reduced from Rs. 750 cr in 2021-22 BE to Rs. 500 cr in 2022- 26 (BE). Even without reduction, the scheme’s allocation is meagre as against the need.
Liberation of manual scavengers and their rehabilitation through self-employment has also been a flagship scheme implemented by the Central government for nearly three decades. The scheme was revised in 2013 to harmonise it with amended and strengthened law on prohibition of employment of manual scavengers. But the scheme has been poorly implemented as indicated by non-utilisation of funds over the years. The low fund utilisation is due to lack of complete and credible identification of manual scavengers and the huge gap between their number claimed by the Government and those emerging from non-official surveys. Besides, not all the identified manual scavengers have received one time cash assistance and skill development training. (CBGA, 2022) The implementation problems been around for quite some time but have not been sorted out. This only shows the apathy of the Government towards this most neglected social group.
Allocation for welfare of STs in 10 B of the budget statement is Rs. 89,265 cr. Like SCs, expenditure in respect of this allocation is not targeted at STs and therefore, does not necessarily benefit them. But the share of STs in the budget for Centrally sponsored and central sector schemes which is targeted at them is only 5.50%. as against their national population percentage of 8.00%. This allocation is also less than the previous year. Besides it is doubtful whether the benefit of even this expenditure accrues to STs. This is because, Ministries / Departments report expenditure on STs notionally without ensuring that it is spent on need based schemes and with participation of the community. There is no monitoring of the Programme due to lack of dedicated monitoring units at district & State levels. But tribals suffer not only in respect of their share of resources not spent on them but violation of their rights in land and forest and the adverse impact of development programmes of other Ministries / Departments on them. The Budget does not take cognizance of this problem.
Religious minorities have been lagging behind development indicators pertaining to educational attainment, gender equality and workforce participation. This is particularly so in respect of Muslims in urban areas who are largely employed as casual labourers or are self-employed. They also suffer from a discrimination and violence which has become particularly alarming during the last few years. The government’s approach to development of religious minorities consists of two programmes: 1) Prime Minister’s New 15 point programme and 2) the Multi Sectoral Development Programme renamed as Pradhan Mantri Jan Vikas Karyakaram. The former enhances opportunities for education, equitable share in economic activities, employment, improving living conditions and prevention and control of communal riots. The programme requires Ministries / Departments to allocate 15% of their fund for this purpose in their schemes. The second scheme focuses on infrastructure creation in minority concentration areas. As for the New 15 point programme, the expenditure reported by Ministries / Departmentshas been largely notional as it does not ensure that its benefits accrue to members of religious minorities and particularly Muslims whose status is the worst all minority groups. The neglect of minorities particularly during this regime is evident from the fact that the total expenditure on religious minorities by the Union Government through the New 15 Points Programme has declined to 0.12% in 2022-23 (BE) from 0.14 in 2021-22 (BE). (CBGA, 2022) The budget provision for nodal Ministry for minorities has been increased from Rs. 4820 cr in 2021-22 to Rs. 5010 cr in 2022-23 (BE) but far lower than the demand made by the Ministry. The major scheme for the minorities administered by the Ministry is the post metric scholarships and merit scholarships. These schemes have been given a small increase from the previous year while other schemes including that of Maulana Azad Education and Madrasa Education have seen a decline in allocation.
Scholarship schemes, however, suffer from implementational problems with poor coverage of beneficiaries, low unit cost, late release of funds. Union Government promised to give one crore scholarships to minorities annually in 2019. As against this, only 58 lakh students received scholarship in 2020-21 although 1.10 crore applications were received showing a huge gap in implementation. In respect of Post Matric Scholarship Scheme, only 36.7% of the applicants received scholarship that year. Besides, the amount of money given as scholarship is too low and has not been revised since 2007-08. It is even lower than scholarship amount given to SC / ST. Such is the depth of discrimination.
Persons with Disabilities
The Budget provided a small concession to persons with disabilities. The parent or guardian of a person with disability can avail of insurance scheme for such persons which allows the payment of annuity and lump sum amounts during the life time of the parents / guardians. Otherwise, the budget contains no commitment towards implementation of Right of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016. Rather, the overall specific allocation for persons with disabilities as a ratio of GDP shows a declining trend (CBGA, 2022).
Like religious minorities, allocation for development of persons with disability come from schemes of different Ministries / Departments. Samagra Siksha Abhyan (SMSA) has a specific allocation for the inclusive education of children with disabilities, the allocations for which significantly increased in 2018-19 and 2019-20 but declined in 2020-21.
Department of persons with Disabilities is the nodal agency for overseeing the implementation of Rights of Persons with Disability Act, 2016 and for specific programmes for Person with disabilities. Its allocation in the Budget 2022-23 has increased marginally by 3%. This marginalised group suffers not only from inadequate allocation but significant underutilization of allocated amount. This underutilisation was 35% of allocation in 2020-21 and 15% in 2019-20 across programmes. (CBGA, 2022-23).
By way of social protection, Indira Gandhi National Disability Pension Scheme is targeted at them but covers only 7.6% of working age adults. Children are completely left out from this scheme. Though Covid-19 has exacerbated the problems, shockingly, the budget 2022-23 has even reduced allocation for this Pension Scheme. (CBGA, 2022-23) There is no specific programme for women with disabilities.
The foregoing has shown that the expectation that the budget expenditure would be used for reducing inequalities through redistribution of public expenditure and providing relief to the vulnerable sections has been belied. Taxation is another instrument for reducing inequalities through redistribution of wealth and income from the rich to the poor. Lack of resources is advanced as an alibi for inaction in redistribution of public expenditure. But this lack of resources is on account of lack of willingness to use taxation as a tool for garnering them which would also reduce inequalities in income and wealth. Rather, Government has resorted to regressive taxation policy. Increase in indirect taxes such as excise duty on petroleum products is one example of this policy. Indirect taxes increased to 50% under NDA II (National Democratic Alliance Government) in 2019 as against 39% under UPA I (United Progressive Alliance Government) and 44% under UPA II. The tax concessions to corporates is another which in the present regime have been unprecedented – reduction for existing companies from 30% to 22% and for those incorporated after October 1, 2019 and becoming operational before March 31, 2022, from 25 to 15% and withdrawal of capital gains surcharge for foreign investors. Money for increasing public expenditure for expanding the incomes and consumption of those at the bottom of the pyramid can come from a determination to expand taxation of the super-rich. Just two taxes levied on the top 1% of the population, a wealth tax of 2% and an inheritance tax of 33% would suffice. (Patnaik cited by Mander, 2022) The Government refuses or failed to act on this sound advice due to its neo-liberal ideological obsession.
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