The Poor Have No Political Godfathers

Even the Pre-poll Budget denies them any luxury of hope

K.B. Saxsena

An Interim Budget does not usually carry much importance since it has a very limited objective of extending government’s ability to spend till such time as the new government after election assumes power and presents its fiscal map. In India, the fiscal year ends on March 31. Under the NDA regime the Budget is now presented on February 1. The Government in power therefore, needs approval of Parliament in respect of continuity of expenditure till the new Government takes over after election sometime in the month of May. The election dates are expected to be announced shortly. A full union budget may be presented in June. Though the Government in power is not prevented from making a lot of promises and even by way of new schemes allocate resources for them if it comes back to power to attract voters, these proposals are legally not building on whichever party forms the Government.

But the presentation of this interim budget had created a lot of speculation about what the Modi Government was going to do due to a member of political and economic challenges faced by it. The prominent among the economic challenges are the continuing agrarian distress which brought farmers to the streets, increasing unemployment and the slowing down of economy, the latter two on account of major policy decisions taken in the last 2-3 years, demonetization and the Goods and Services Tax which disrupted operations and activities of farmers, traders and petty producers in the informal sector and crippled the MSMES (Micro, small and Medium Enterprises) already under stress for various reasons. This accentuated the problem of unemployment and added job losses to the ‘Jobless growth’. On the political front loss of power in three states – Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh in the recently held elections in States indicated that some sections of upper castes and the middle class were drifting away from it. The shrinking of vote share also rattled the ruling party looking for a confident second tenure. The interim budget was a response to these challenges. Its major proposals were designed to assuage the aggrieved sections / groups. Though the budget stuck to the nomenclature of ‘interim’ as against the full budget, as was widely speculated, to avoid the criticism of institutional impropriety, the new proposals it contained virtually turned it into a full budget minus proposals of taxation. The package of big ticket welfare proposals highlighted in the budget provided sops to the sections perceived to be alienating from it. The budget also contained a vision of what the Government intended to do after winning a second term thereby virtually turning it into an election manifesto of the ruling party.

Of the three major announcements by way of new proposals, one was in the agriculture sector providing income support to farmers called PM- Kisan Samman Nidhi. This will entail payment of Rs. 6000 to them which shall be deposited in their bank account in three instalments of Rs. 2000/- each with effect from December 1, 2018. This will benefit 12 crore farmers. The second big ticket proposal is a pension scheme for unorganized sector workers with a monthly income of Rs. 15000 or less called PM – Shramyogi MaanDhan which would ensure a monthly pension of Rs. 3000/- after retirement in lieu of a monthly payment between Rs. 55 to Rs. 100/- depending upon the age of joining the scheme. The third was in the form of full income tax rebate for those with a yearly income up to Rs. 5 lakh. They will not require to pay income tax at all. This will provide tax saving to them of up to Rs. 12,500 in a year. Added to it is additional rebate for those with yearly gross income upto 6.50 lakh if they make investments in provident funds, specified savings, insurance etc. Persons having even higher income will not have to pay any tax with additional deductions such as interest on home loan up to Rs 2 lakh, interest on educational loans, National Pension Scheme contributions, medical insurance, medical expenditure on senior citizens, etc. This will benefit 3 crore middle class tax payers. The three proposals targeted three occupational groups who could influence pattern of voting in the coming election i.e., farmers, unorganized workers and members of the salaried class.

Let us take the PM – Kissan Samman Nidhi first because the Government intends to ensure that at least one instalment of Rs. 2000/- if not two are expeditiously deposited in the account of the targeted farmers by March 31 and for this purpose, even the insistence of Aadhar biometrics linkage to bank account has been waived for payment. This scheme is however, unlikely to cut much ice with the farmers because even as an income transfer gesture, the amount is too small and ‘would not even enough to fill diesel in the farmers’hired tractors’(Satpathy, 2019) let alone a significant part of expenditure incurred on inputs. It amounts to tokenism rather than a meaningful compensation for the loss farmers are incurring leading to their perpetual indebtedness. P. Chidambaram sarcastically pointed out that it works out to Rs. 17/- of additional income a day and Rs. 500/- pm which is an insult to them and is actually a cash for votes (Chidambaram, 2019). Secondly, even this tokenistic gesture would be difficult to reach the beneficiaries bank account in a short time prior to the announcement of election dates considering that any distributional programme, whether of commodity or cash, is confronted with identification difficulties, more so when the identification is to be based on land records. Even the basis of 12 crore figure quoted in the Finance Minister’s speech is not known. He did not clarify whether this 12 crore figure refers to ownership holdings or operational holdings. Since operation holding includes land belonging to someone else but taken for cultivation on tenancy which is also largely oral not reflected in land records, itcannot be the basis of eligibility for this entitlement as the genuine beneficiary would be difficult to establish. As for ownership holdings, according NSS (Report 571), the number of such households between 0.002 ha are 2 hectares (not counting the solely homestead ownership) would be 13.3 crore in 2013. Though this figure is more than 12 crore, it is the nearest approximation to it. (Patnaik, 2013). Since ownership can be verified from land records, it alone has a sound evidentiary basis for identifications. The proposal also does not make a distinction between irrigated and unirrigated land. Also, it fails to clarify whether a person having only homestead land would be entitled to this benefit? However, since the scheme is to provide income support to farmers battered by high cost of cultivation and low realization from its disposal, it is not likely to apply to homestead land. It is, therefore, evident that neither cultivators without ownership rights or those who own merely homestead land nor landless persons, agricultural labourers and nor even non-farm rural poor would be entitled to this benefit. (Chidambaram, 2019; Patnaik, 2019) According to 2011 Socio-Economic and Caste Census around 40% rural households are landless and depend upon manual labour for survival (Narayanan and Nandy, 2019). About 65.7% agricultural households have only homestead land. (Haque, 2016) In case of SCs, as per NSSO (70th round) Land and Livestock Holding Survey, 58.4% of rural SC households are landless and 71% of SC Farmers are agricultural Labourers. (Jyoti, 2019) Tenant farmers are also not insignificant as the prevalence of tenancy is widespread and is as high as 33.8 in AP and 21.0% in Bihar which is also an under estimation because most informal tenants and land owners do not report it former for fear of eviction by land owner and latter for fear of losing land to tenant. (Haque, 2016) Taken together, landless persons tenants and agriculture labourers non-farm rural poor would more than 40% agricultural households. (Abhijit Sen, Former Member Planning Commission, puts this number at 30% in Haq, 2019) which is an underestimation. Since without the ownership proof based on land records (the only official document for this identification) no money would be transferred by the Government, the absentee land owners would get the benefit of this income transfer while the tenant who invests in inputs and puts in his family’s labour would get nothing. It would be double bonanza to land owners who get income support from the Government as also large part of crop income from tenant cultivated land. Besides, land records in most states have not been updated for decades and do not even reflect the correct ownership of land let alone tenancy. These records cannot be updated in a month or two. Land Records updating goes through a long and complex process and is governed by laws laying down rights and interests in land and would therefore be subjected to judicial challenge by person/persons aggrieved by the decision of the updating authority. If payment is made on the basis of existing records, it would create great turmoil because the money may go to the old owner rather than the existing eligible farmer. For example, land may be in the name of the father in a family but may have been informally divided between sons who cultivate the land. The sons may fail to get any benefit in such a situation if records are not updated. Most Adivasi lands belong to this category. Besides, in the Northeast, land is held by the community while individual plots are assigned to the households Identification of individual cultivator would also be a complex task. (Jebraj, 2019) The Central government had started a scheme for modernization of land records and their digitization. But only a few states have made significant progress in this direction. While a number of states have only computerized their land records, others have not even begun this process. But mere computerization of land records does not imply that the data fed to the computer has been updated. Digitization (computerization) and updating of records are two different things. The former refers to converting existing hand written / printed land documents with changes inserted in them into computerized ones, the updating involves rewriting of land records based on changes that have occurred as a result of sale/purchase, division in the family, inheritance etc. for which coordinating with different departments of the government is required. The latter is most crucial for deciding on the rightful owner to transfer the benefit of the scheme. Government has also said that any change in land record after March, 2019 will not be taken into account. In the case of Telangana, the model which the scheme tries to copy, payment was given on the basis of per acre of owned land rather than family unit. It was therefore easier to identify eligible farmers on the basis of land records. Besides, in Telangana, Government had undertaken a crash programme for updating of land records in three months before implementing the scheme. Even so, as per estimate of some researchers, 10 lakh out of 54 lakh (nearly 20%) of eligible beneficiaries were left out of the initial installments. (Jebraj, 2019) Besides, the farmer even when he/she has been correctly identified on the basis of land records may not have an account in the bank. Some may not have Aadhar cards. It would take time to comply with both these requirements. Perhaps, the intention of the Government seems to be to identify at least a small percentage of farmers on the basis of existing land records where the cultivator of land is also the owner and deposit the first installment in his/her account by March 31stwith a view to deriving political mileage for the ruling party.

Coming to the second major scheme announced in the interim budget, Pradhan Mantri Shram Yogi Maan Dhan has targeted 42 crore unorganized sector workers with a monthly income up to Rs. 15000 for assuring them a monthly pension Rs. 3000/- from the age of 60 years on a monthly contribution of Rs. 100 per month if they join the scheme at the age 29 years, and a contribution of only Rs. 55 per month if they join it at 18 years of age. The Government will deposit an equal matching share in the pension account of the worker every month. It is expected that at least 10 crore workers would avail of this benefit within the next five years. It is doubtful if the scheme would be greeted with enthusiasm by them. It offers little attraction as a social security measure to the most vulnerable of occupational groups in their old age when they cannot do any physical labour to earn their daily bread. Like the PM-Kissan Samman Nidhi, the amount of Pension entitlement at the end of 60 years is so meager that it would not even provide one decent meal a day in the market to the worker at current prices and at the end of 30 years the value of Rs 3000 with a 2% inflation would get reduced to Rs. 500/- pm. (Prasad, 2019) The size of benefit apart, the relief if it can ever be called so would come at a distant future. The scheme provides no succour this juncture when the unorganized labour is groaning under most exploitative conditions and does not cover those who have already reached 60 years age. Secondly, it is questionable whether it is a social security scheme at all because by the time a worker joining the scheme at the age of 29 competes 60 years, he would have contributed close to Rs. 1,50,000 at 8% annual compound interest rate. The current male life expectancy being 65 years, the beneficiary would get Rs. 3000/- pm for 5 years from his/her own contribution. The pension scheme thus becomes a savings scheme. (Patnaik, 2019) If the Government’s declaration that it would deposit matching share in beneficiaries’ account is to materialize, the corpus at the end of the 30 years would be almost double of Rs 1,50,000 and should be able to provide Rs. 5000 to 6000 to the enrolled worker rather Rs. 3000/-. The scheme therefore is too unattractive to interest the worker. But the more serious flaw in the scheme is that it does not take into account the ‘uncertainties’ under which most unorganized sector workers survive. They face uncertainty of employment, irregular work, low wages, days when no work is available. The payment for wage work has no fixed pattern. It could fluctuate between daily, weekly or monthly payment. How would such a worker deposit Rs. 100/- every month. The scheme assumes that most unorganized sector workers get a monthly pay which only shows the disconnect of policy makers with the social reality. Secondly, it would be such a hassle to deposit Rs. 100 every month for a worker who may be shifting from place to place for seeking work. There are also concerns about safety of their contribution (Yadav, 2019) since the scheme is to be managed not by the government but an autonomous regulatory body who would invest this cash to earn interest. Such investments carry market risks. The scheme is therefore a non-starter at least for bulk of the unorganized sector workers. Besides, the scheme largely duplicates Atal Pension Yojna launched in 2015 rather than amalgamating and improving it to attract the targeted workers. There has been no attempt to learn from the virtual failure of Atal Pension Yojna which could enroll only 1.33 crore subscribers during the last four years. (Chidambaram, 2019) In the circumstances, there is little possibility that the new scheme would enroll 10 crore workers in 5 years. That a provision of merely Rs. 500 has been provided in the Budget for it shows that the Finance Minister was also not sure of its attractiveness. Even the cow protection scheme gets a better deal with an allocation of Rs. 750 cr. in the budget. But then, it serves the immediate purpose of propaganda for the ruling party in the election. But the publicity value has come at the cost of the real, most needy, underfunded and inadequately covered genuine pension scheme for widows and senior citizens called the National Social Assistance Programme the allocation for which has been quietly reduced by Rs. 755/- crore from what was provided in BE of the 2018-19. (Dreze, 2019)

The third major scheme is an income retention tax relief proposal for the salaried class with tax payers earning up to Rs. 5 lakh getting a full tax rebate thereby leaving them a tax saving of up to Rs. 12,500 and those in higher income brackets also getting similar tax concession subject to specified investments and additional deductions. But these concessions would provide no immediate relief to the targeted tax payers as they would be applicable from the next financial year. Besides, taxation proposals are not contained in the budget. It is therefore, not known what would be the impact of tax proposals on the overall net benefit to the concerned tax payers. That said, there is a class hierarchy in Governments’ approach to benefit different classes of aggrieved population. (Mehra, 2019)The benefits to the middle class out strip those to the poorer sections. The salaried class would get the benefit of Rs. 1000 pm in terms of tax avoided, the farmers are only to be provided Rs. 500/- pm by way of income support and the poor and vulnerable unorganized sector workers get nothing at all. The contributory pension scheme from the own savings provides no income support to them, neither in the short term nor in the long run. The former two unlike the unorganised sector workers would not have to waittill they are sixty to receive the benefit.

Employment Oriented Schemes

The landless poor and agricultural labourers have been abandoned not only in income support proposals, but also in social sector programmes. They are also the worst hit by the economy and economic reforms policies of the Government. According to CMIE (Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy), almost 11 million Indians lost their jobs during 2018. Of them, 9.1 million jobs were in rural areas. Individuals belonging to the vulnerable groups – uneducated wage labourers, agricultural labourers and small traders were the worst hit. They bore the brunt of joblessness during the aftermath of demonetization. (Business Today, 2019) For this category of labour, MNREGS provides the only assured source of employment even though at low wages and subject to the demand for work being acknowledged and work taken up immediately to engage them. The Budget speech makes much of providing Rs. 60,000 crore allocation (highest ever) to the scheme. But the allocation is less than the RE (Revised Estimate) of Rs. 61084 in 2018-19. In fact, the allocations for MNREGS from year to year in the past few years have been short of amount required for actual work executed resulting in pending liabilities of wage and material payments and negative balance in States’ MNREGS accounts. These liabilities have resulted in delay in payment of wages and bills of material suppliers. The situation would aggravate since the Government has increased additional 50 days of work in drought affected areas. Government is, therefore, rationing work due to budgetary constraints resulting in inadequate allocation at the BE stage of the financial year. Even augmentation of allocation at the RE stage of the financial year does not meet the entire liabilities of work executed. In 2017-18 itself, there were 7.2 crore people seeking work. Around 1.25 crore never got any work. They were not even paid unemployment relief. (People’s Democracy, 2019) This year the demand has been 33% more than the employment provided this year (Narayanan and Nandy, 2019). If the legal entitlement of providing work on demand is to be honoured, an allocation 1,60,000 crore would be required which would indicate the gap between demand for work and provision of employment. This forces job seekers not even to place the demand for work out of frustration Government is engaging in withholding and falsification of information to hide its inability to meet demand for work. (Naryanan, 2019) Field functionaries also do not record demand for work and issue receipt so as to show that the work provided matches the demand made and do not also update information pertaining to unemployment allowance due and paid in the MIS (Management Information System). There are also data discrepancies under the heads ‘percentage of rural households provided employment and ‘average person days’ work created between data in MNREGS MIS and information on employment figures in NSS Rounds. (CBGA, 2019)

The two other schemes which were sources of providing employment to the poor in rural development sector were PMAY-G (Prime Minister’s Awas Yojna – Grameen) and PMGSY (Prime Minister Grameen Sadak Yojna). The former is a replacement of the earlier Indira Awas Yojna. Government promised housing for all by 2022 as per which 10 million houses are to be constructed by March 2019 and 51 lakh houses were to be completed by March 2018. The target also included training of 80,000 masons in 2018-19. But so far only 6.8 million houses have been constructed. Still, the PMAY- G allocations (2019-20) are lower by 11% from actual expenditure in 2017-18 and by 4% from the RE of 2018-19. The allocation provided also does not even meet the committed share of 60% of the Central government in the scheme (CBGA, 2019). This would affect the completion rate of houses.

Finance Ministers over the years have played with figures of allocation for programmes in a manner that shows increase in them from the previous year while hiding the reduction in them. For example, in PMGSY,the allocation for 2019-20 BE shows an increase of Rs. 3500 crore from the BE of 2018-19. But this allocation is at the same level as was provided in 2016-17 (BE) and 2017-18 (BE) and is less than 4% of the committed Central government’s share. The actual utilization has been lower than BE provided. The fund utilization under the programme has been affected by shortage of staff and geo-lagging process mandated by the Ministry of Rural Development. Swachch Bharat, much published flagship programme of the Prime Minister has also received a sharply reduced allocation of Rs. 12,750 cr. from the actual expenditure in 2017-18 and even the revised allocation of 2018-19 in the rural segment. The National Rural Livelihood Mission Programme however, has received a substantial increase of 56% from the allocation in the preceding years. The Programme is devoted to the creation of institutional platform for creating linkages between producer groups and producer companies in the field of sustainable agriculture and non-timber forest products. Cluster as well as block level federations are created to facilitate it. The common Review Programme of the Ministry of Rural Development recommended higher allocation to scale up the programmer. The actual expenditure under the programme has been higher than BE of the year since 2015-16 necessitating enhancement at the RE stage. (CBGA, 2019)

Dalits and Adivasis

SCs and STs constitute the poorest of the poor and entrenched norms of social and suffer from historically economic discrimination. The Election Manifesto of BJP promised to bridge the gap between Scheduled Castes (Dalits) and STs (Tribals) and the rest of the population following the principles of social and economic justice along with political empowerment. While reducing the number of centrally sponsored schemes with a view to transferring some of them to the States, the schemes relating to SCs/STs were viewed as core sector and retained by the Central government. This view harmonized well with the ruling party’s political ideology of consolidation of Hindu votes and therefore, coopting these groups into their fold to enlarge its vote bank to retain political power. But in no political regime since independence, have the SCs and STs been so disempowered as in the current dispensation since 2014-15. Every instrument / institutional arrangement created in governance structure to protect the social, economic and political interests of the two groups has either been dismantled or diluted SCs/STs (Prevention of Atrocities) Act which was enacted to protect them against violence and also recently strengthened, has been so drastically weakened by a recent decision of the Supreme Court as to lose its bite and effectiveness altogether. The decision had apparently the support of the Government as its advocate did not put up an effective defence of the Act. Only the protests exerted by SC/ST MPs and political mobilization by Dalit youth groups forced the Government to issue an ordinance to undo the damage. Forest Rights Act (Scheduled Tribes and other Forest Dwellers’ (Recognition of Forest Right) Act 2006 was enacted to give recognition to the their customary rights and their existing possession of land after a countrywide mobilization against Supreme Court’s decision to evict tribals from Forest (Godavarman Case) as a result of which more than a lakh of tribals were mercilessly dispossessed from their land and habitat using force But the implementation of the 2006 Act has been subverted by the forest bureaucracy with the result that an overwhelmingly large number of claims filed for individual and community rights in forest and upheld by village level committee were rejected by higher level committees dominated by forest and revenue officials. Some retired forest officers also challenged the validity of the Act itself. Now the Supreme Court while hearing the case filed by them has again directed that tribals whose claims have been rejected should be evicted from forest thereby virtually nullifying the Act. Here too, the case was not defended properly by the Government pleader. Government has moved the court to review its order. But the Court has only stayed further action for a short period.

The second instrument to address historical discrimination against the two communities was reservation of posts in Government appointments and seats in institutions of higher learning in proportion to the percentage of population of these two groups. The reservation provisions have all along been ineffectively implemented particularly in Government aided and funded public institutions and has also been diluted by various decisions of Government and the Courts. But the most recent decision of the Supreme Court which upheld the decision of Allahabad High Court on the methodology of counting reserved vacancies in University level appointments has drastically reduced reserved posts to less than 10% what used to be the earlier practice since the reservation policy was introduced. This has angered the Dalit and Adivasi (SC/ST) groups who backed by some MPs have demanded that Government should issue an ordinance to undo this injustice. But Government merely requested the Court to review its order which has been rejected. The ordinance to undo this damage has not been issued yet. The latest action of the Government to reserve 10% of jobs in government appointments and seats in institutions of higher learning for ‘poor’ in the general category (non-reserved) knocks off the very foundation of reservation policy as enshrined in Art 16(4) which laid down the criteria of ‘social and educationally backwardness’ of a community to be the basis for providing reservation. The Supreme Court in the past has steadfastly invalidated poverty or economic conditions as the basis for reservation. The non-reserved category of candidates does not fit into this criterion and therefore Government has amended the Constitution for this purpose. Not only this, the definition of ‘poor’ to be eligible for claiming reservation in this category has been so liberally defined (households with 8 lakh annual income) that virtually 95% of the general category population would come within the purview of this entitlement rather than only the very poor among them. Shockingly, all political parties have supported this move which is solely aimed at appeasing the upper caste Hindu voters to gather their political support in the coming election. In addition, many State governments have similarly extended reservation to middle castes who are dominant communities in their area and are adequately represented in every position of power and governance such as the Marathas in Maharashtra and Gujjars in Rajasthan by the exceeding 50% limit of reservation imposed by the Supreme Court.

The third instrument for their empowerment was to render economic justice to them by constituting a sub-plan within a development plan and mandating all departments and ministries to allocate percentage of resources from their plan budget in proportion to their population to this pool for taking up schemes which benefit them. Similar arrangement was mandated at the State level. But even this measure of economic justice was undone by abrogating the planning system altogether. The Planning Commission which administered the planning process was abolished by the NDA government and replaced by Niti Ayog. Two years ago, NDA Government also removed the distinction between plan and non-plan categories of resource allocation and its expenditure. The erstwhile Sub- Plan arrangement had insisted on need based planning for the targeted groups in order that the earmarked funds for the sub plan was spent on schemes specifically benefitting them, identifying such schemes and monitoring their implementation to ensure that the targeted expenditure takes place both at the level of Central ministries and State governments. Under the arrangement that has replaced it, ministries / departments earmark resources from their overall budget to the general pool called the ‘Welfare of SCs/STs’. There is neither insistence on this money being spent on need based schemes which benefit the targeted group exclusively nor there is any monitoring of whether the expenditure has genuinely benefited the targeted group. But all activities/ schemes of a ministry / department do not benefit the targeted group. Therefore, even if higher allocations to the welfare pool for SCs/STs are effected, their expenditure carries no value for the groups. It creates false impression of having favoured the groups with larger flow of funds for their welfare but obfuscates the truth. National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights has pointed out that out of 279 schemes of the Central government from which resources have been earmarked by different Ministries/Departments, to this welfare pool only 31, are directly applicable to SCs and only 8 schemes are applicable to STs which can provide some benefit to them. In such a situation, there is no way of knowing how much of expenditure from this pool of welfare of SCs and STs has benefited the groups. Unlike the Planning Commission, the Niti Ayog which has replaced it does not monitor this aspect. It merely monitors whether the allocated resources under the pool have been released by the Central ministries to the implementing agencies. The credit taken by the Finance Minister for higher allocation to this pool, therefore, is an attempt to take the marginalized groups for a ride in the hope that it would help them in the coming election but the latter are not going to be taken in by this claim. Similarly, the allocation for the Department of Social Justice and Empowerment which implements schemes exclusively benefitting SCs has been given an increase of 25% in 2019-20 over the BE of the preceding year. But this hides the fact that the preceding year’s RE (Revised Estimate) was higher than this amount. Therefore, the BE allocation for 2019-20 is actually lower than RE of 2018-19 and is ever lower than Actual Expenditure incurred during 2017-18. On the other hand, the scheme which benefits SCs most is Post-Matric Scholarship which continues to be underfunded. The scheme’s budget at the RE stage last year was Rs. 6000 cr. But only around ½ of this allocation has been provided in BE of 2019-20. This, despite the fact that there are huge pending claims to be cleared and assurance was given to the Parliament’s Standing Committee for the Department that adequate allocation would be provided to clear the arrears. The reduced allocation for the scheme has very adverse effects on the students pursuing their studies. Inadequate allocation would result in disrupting regular scholarship payment forcing the students pursuing different courses to drop out, given their precarious financial position and preventing potential new entrants from enrolling for the courses. This would block the prospects of SC youth for seeking a dignified employment. In the case of STs too, the allocation for post matric scholarship has been reduced from the level of the RE of the preceding year. In the case of another important scheme, the rehabilitation of manual scavengers, the allocation has been severely reduced from Rs. 70 cr (RE 2018-19) to Rs. 30 cr (2019-20) BE despite the fact that the scourge of manual scavenging still continues and 1.6 lakh women are still forced to clean sit (Wilson, 2019) despite a strengthened law having been enacted. Deaths of scavengers engaged in cleaning of sewers and drains are being reported in media every now and then. On an average one person dies every five days while cleaning sewers and septic tanks. The scheme is bogged down in implementational problems. Even identification of manual scavengers is locked in severe contestation as the estimates 53,236 of manual scavengers identified by Government is a gross estimation. It includes data from only 121 of more than 600 districts, excludes data from Railways and does not include those involved in cleaning sewers and septic tanks. But, even the officially estimated figure of 53,236 is contested by State governments which have confirmed only 6650. This speaks eloquently of official apathy (Wilson, 2019). The cumbersome process to avail of assistance under the scheme is also a bottleneck. Yet, another scheme which deals with educational development of SCs has faced a sharp cut in allocation. The scheme provides financial assistance to children of families engaged in unclean occupations, and also for construction and maintenance of hostels for SC boys and girls. The allocation for the scheme has been reduced to Rs. 3715 (BE 2019-20) from Rs. 6425 cr in RE of 2018-19.


Muslims in the current dispensation suffer the most with attacks on their identity, culture and livelihood compounded by hate campaign and mob lynching of those members among them who are engaged in transporting animals. This hostility extends to development expenditure too. Muslims are not directly targeted in development expenditure but only as a large group in the minorities. Minorities constitute 21% of the population but receive only 0.49% of resources in the budget allocation. Niti Ayog has acknowledged huge gap between Muslims and the rest of the population. Muslims have the highest proportion (4.43%) of out of school children Eighty Five lakh Muslim students are left out of scholarship scheme which is not demand driven, gets meager allocation and the scholarship amount is also low which is getting further eroded in value by inflation. The Standing Committee of the Parliament for the Ministry pointed out this inadequacy in its report which has not persuaded the Government to provide sufficient funds. Not only this, the allocation for some important schemes of the Ministry of Minorities specifically targeting Muslims such as Maulana Azad Foundation, Pre-Metric scholarship as also National Minorities Development Corporation which finances income earning projects have witnessed large reduction. The total expenditure on minorities by the specified ministries / departments under the 15 Point Programme has also shown a declining trend. There is also no forward movement on the recommendations of Sachar Committee in respect of Equal Opportunity Commission, Diversity Index and National Data Bank. These measures were suggested to address discrimination against Muslims. Multi Sectoral Development of minority areas renamed as PM Jan Vikas Karyakaran, the flagship scheme of the Ministry of Minorities for infrastructure creation continues to be poorly implemented with its constraints of design allocation and absence of dedicated organization to implement it. It continues to face low achievement in physical outcomes, poor completion rates and many schemes not having been started.


Women figured 9 times in the Budget speech of the Finance Minister but have not received matching attention in allocations. Gender Budget has come down from 6.66% of GDP in 2018-19 to 6.62% of GDP in 2019-20 and as a proportion of Union Expenditure from 5% to 4.7% (CBGA, 2019).The Budget allocation under Part ‘A’ which caters to schemes entirely benefitting women has declined marginally from the level of RE in 2018-19 but significantly against the Actual Expenditure in 2017-18. However, the Budget for Ministry of Women and Child Development has received a substantial increase of Rs. 7333 cr. The increase, it transpires, is mostly in respect of the scheme Anganwadi Services which deals with Integrated Child Development among other programmes. This substantial increase is largely on account of the 50% hike in honorarium of Anganwadi workers and helpers that the PM recently promised. This honorarium has not been paid in absence of allocation. While the higher allocation is welcome, it does not meet any demand of Anganwadi workers, the most important being regularization of employment, living wage and social security benefit. The allocation would however, not help much in expansion of ICDS programme and improvement in the quality of implementation and food supplied.

The Budget allocation for women specifically has witnessed a decline in the two schemes – Swadhar Greh, and Women’s helpline despite a spurt in violence against them. Only one scheme One Stop Centre has seen an increase in allocation. The allocation for the flagship scheme of Beti Bachao Beti Padao is the same as last year. The allocation for the National Mission on Empowerment of women has also been reduced. The allocation for National Maternity Benefit Scheme, though doubled from last year, is inadequate for 51.7% lakh beneficiaries who are entitled to this benefit even on the basis of reduced norm of eligibility for entitlement which itself is in disregard to the norm laid down in the National Food Security Act. Ujjawala Scheme allocation in 2019-20 has also been reduced from BE of 2018-19, which itself was reduced to less than half at the RE stage. Therefore, an increase of Rs. 10 cr over the RE of 2018-19 is still substantially less than BE of last year for covering additional 2 crore women with supply of cooking gas connection. But the scheme does not take into account that the beneficiaries fail to refill the cylinder after receipt of free gas connection and the first cylinder because they do not have the requisite resources. The scheme therefore fails to serve the purpose of giving women a clean source of fuel and wean them away for using kerosene oil or fuel wood and ends up by subsidizing the oil companies. The claim for helping women from being seekers of employment to givers of employment through MUDRA Loans is a hollow claim and has been exposed as untrue by field reports from journalists, NGOs and academics. (Chidambram, 2019)

Vision Statement

The Interim Budget also contains a vision statement for future development which is virtually an election manifesto of the ruling party. Some parts of this vision statement have an urban and elitist bias and show the disconnect with social reality. The first dimension of this vision talks about next generation infrastructure which besides the physical connectivity in terms of railways, sea ports, air ports, water ways also talks of building a quality and science oriented educational system with Institutes of Excellence providing leadership at the top. It is strange that when school education is in such a poor mess, with deficient allocation for infrastructure and teachers training, increasing privatization of government schools, and virtual abandonment of Right to Education Act, the leaderships is being sought for Institutes of Excellence at the top for their reform rather than from educationists who have spent a life time in improving school and college education and making education more inclusive. Another vision talks of exporting to the world their food needs in the most organic way when India has the largest number of hungry people in the world and its ranking has slipped in the Global Hunger Index which shows how far removed the FM is from situation at the ground level. Rather than envisioning India as self-sufficient in food with hunger and malnutrition being wiped out along with ensuring prosperity to farmers, the Vision aims to achieve enhanced farm production and productivity through agro-processing, preservation, packing and maintence of cold chain. It fails to take into account the huge agrarian distress in the country reflected in continuing farmers suicide and a large numbers of farmers wishing to leave agriculture altogether if a better alternatives are available. They need massive state support and reversal of neo-liberal policies.

Yet another vision talks of building a healthy society with health assurance, necessary health infrastructure, distress free health care and functional and comprehensive wellness system. There is no talk of strengthening the public health system with adequate resources and manpower and building strong linkages with social determinants of health and wellness poverty alleviation, employment, drinking water, sanitation and housing. The current route to healthy society is through increasing privatization and handing over public health system services to private sector, privileging tertiary care over comprehensive primary health care, curative care over preventive care and transferring public resources to corporations through insurance schemes rather than investing in expanding and improving public health system. The vision statement’s urban centric bias is also evident in another vision of making India a pollution free nation with electrical vehicles, energy storage devices and ensuring energy security, ignoring completely how privileging growth over environment and looking the other way at increasing degradation of natural capital stock, violation of environmental laws and helplessness of the people in failing to get any redress from agencies responsible for enforcing them. The cynical indifference to environmental degradation of economic growth is integral to yet another vision of Minimum Government and Maximum Governance that the Finance Minister promises Poor people and its vulnerable sections are nowhere at the centre of this governance and ensuring social and economic justice to them does not constitute the focus of governance and the budget schema. These sections had hoped that at least a pre-election budget would respond to their concerns which have remained unaddressed in preceding 5 years and even the modest gains made in the UPA regime had been eroded if not reversed. But, sadly, the Budget statement denies them even this luxury of hope.


‘Budget: A Desperate Bid by Modi Government to attract Votes.’ People’s Democracy Feb 4-10, 2019 Pages 8-9
‘India Lost 11 million Jobs in 2018, Rural Areas Worst hit: CMIE.’ Business Today, Jan 4, 2019.
Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability. 2019. ‘Numbers that Count: An Assessment of Union Budget of NDA II.’ Feb. 2019, New Delhi.
Chidambaram, P. (2019). ‘An Account for Votes!’ Indian Express, Feb 10, 2019. Dreze, Jean. (2019). ‘Rash U-turns, Half-baked Truths.’ Indian Express, Feb 16, 2019.
Haque, T. (2016). ‘Agrarian Distress in India Causes and Remedies’, in T. Haque (edited) Agrarian Distress in India: Causes and Remedies. Concept: New Delhi.
Jebraj, Priscilla. (2019). ‘Why Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi Scheme will be hard to implement.’ The Hindu, Feb 16, 2019
Jyoti, Dhrubo. (2019). ‘SC/ST Bodies Say Budget Lacks Depth.’ Hindustan Times, Feb 3, 2019.
Mehra Puja. (2019). ‘An Appeasement Budget.’ The Hindu, Feb 5, 2019. Narayanan, Rajendran. (2019). ‘Fabrication and Falsification.’ The Hindu, January 21, 2019.
Narayanan, Rajendran. and Nandy, Debmalya. (2019). ‘The Solution is Universal.’ The Hindu, Feb 11, 2019
Patnaik, Prabhat. (2019). ‘Boundaries of Welfare.’ Indian Express, Feb 4, 2019
Prasad, Archna. (2019). ‘Interim Budget Makes Mockery of Informal Labour’s Plight.’ People’s Democracy, Feb 4-10, 2019
Satpathy, Tathagata. (2019). ‘No, the amount is not even enough to fill diesel in the farmers’ hired tractors.’ The Hindu, Feb 8, 2019.
Wilson, Bezwada. (2019). ‘Dalit Problems will not be solved by avoiding the rehabilitation Issue.’ Hindustan Times, March 6, 2019.
Yadav, R.S. (2019). ‘On Budget.’ New Age, Feb 10-16, 2019
Zia Haq. (2019). ‘Cash Scheme for Farmers with land as on Feb 1, Govt.’ Hindustant Times, Feb 4, 2019. Cited AbjijitSen a former member of Planning Commission to corroborate it.

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