New Delhi, March 1
IN keeping with the socialist spirit of the Common Minimum Programme, the Finance Minister, Mr P. Chidambaram, has given extra thrust to the social sector in the 2005-2006 Union Budget with a view to "eliminating the scourge of poverty" and bettering the lives of the masses.
Hence, there is enhanced allocation in all spheres, be it employment, food, nutrition, drinking water, or health and sanitation.
The main emphasis is on employment generation and the theme runs through all the schemes, sectors and programmes that the Government has announced.
It has also committed to give the "highest attention" to those sectors with potential for job generation.
For instance, the textile sector is estimated to have the potential to throw up 1.2 crore jobs in the next five years, the food processing industry 2.5 lakh jobs every year, additional irrigation facilities one crore jobs in five years and IT 70 lakh jobs by 2009.
In addition, the National Food for Work programme has been converted into the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) with allocation increased to Rs 5,400 crore as cash component from Rs 4,020 crore in the last Budget.
However, the allocation also includes 50 lakh tonnes of foodgrains this time, which takes the overall NREGS allocation to Rs 11,000 crore.
The next emphasis is on food to impact below-poverty-line families and children. Half a crore more such families are to be covered by the Antyodaya Anna Yojana, while the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) are to be expanded with the creation of another 1,88,168 centres with allocation increased to Rs 3,142 crore from last year's Rs 1,623 crore.
The Government is also doubling the supplementary nutrition norms for ICDS and sharing half of the States' cost for this.
The allocation for children's mid-day meal scheme too has been enhanced by around Rs 1,500 crore.
Providing and improving drinking water for all, a commitment made during to the days of Rajiv Gandhi, is back with a bang.
All drinking water schemes will be brought under the Rajiv Gandhi National Drinking Water Mission with an increase in outlay of around Rs 1,500 crore and an expansion of the programme.
Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka, West Bengal and some other States will be especially helped in tackling their water quality problems.
Sanitation, too, is to receive some attention. The Finance Minister has extended the Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC) to all districts from the 452 districts it operates in currently.
Admitting that only 30 per cent of rural households have access to safe sanitation, he allocated Rs 630 crore for the enhanced scheme.
Primary health care is to also receive a boost with the launching of the National Rural Health Mission that is to provide "grassroots level public health interventions based on community ownership".
The increased allocation from Rs 8,420 crore to Rs 10,280 crore for the Department of Health and the Department of Family Welfare is to finance NRHM's initiatives.
Apart from trying to improve the lives of the population, the Budget emphasises its "commitment to inclusive economic growth", which in other words means bringing the marginalised sections such as scheduled castes and tribes, minorities, and women and children into the mainstream of the growth engine.
The Finance Minister has also identified some States that need the added impetus to grow, including Bihar, Jammu & Kashmir and the North-Eastern region.