Budget 2021

Social welfare: Something old, something new

Tina Edwin New Delhi | Updated on February 01, 2018

The Mid-Day Meal Scheme saw 5 per cent increase in the allocation for 2018-19   -  NAGARA GOPAL

Allocation for several of the ongoing projects like MNREGA got a big boost in this Budget

Once again, the Budget speech laid a lot of thrust on achieving health for all, education for the masses, social security for the poor, increased employment opportunities, housing for poor and social and financial inclusion.

And, as expected, many of the ongoing flagship schemes of the government meant mostly to benefit the poor were highlighted in the last Budget ahead of general elections before May 2019. Several of the schemes, such as Prime Minister’s Ujjwala Scheme for providing free LPG connection to rural women and Pradhan Mantri Saubhagya Yojana for providing electricity connections, will see further expansion and more toilets will be built under Swachh Bharat Abhiyan.

However, it is the health cover programme — the National Health Protection Scheme — announced as a flagship programme that will be spoken about by Prime Minister Narendra Modi the most in the months ahead as he steps out to address the public ahead of Assembly elections in States such as Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Karnataka.

India’s version of Obamacare?

The scheme, which will cover hospitalisation expenses of up to ₹5 lakh, is expected to benefit about 10 crore poor and vulnerable families across the country. Undoubtedly, effective implementation of the scheme will help the masses who currently spend all their savings or borrow for hospital treatments.

While the details of the scheme will be announced in the months ahead, some are already describing it as India’s version of Obamacare. Others say it is only a repackaging of the National Health Protection Scheme that was announced in the last Budget but remained largely on paper. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said this would be the largest government funded healthcare programme.

Yet, this is not the first scheme announced by the NDA government to primarily benefit the uninsured and the under-insured in the country. In Budget 2015-16, the government had announced three social security schemes, Pradhan Mantri Suraksha Bima Yojana and Pradhan Mantri Jeevan Jyoti Bima Yojana as insurance schemes and Atal Pension Yojana as a pension plan. Several crore individuals have already signed up for each of the three social security programmes. Earlier, the government had announced a Jan Dhan Yojana for financial inclusion, which ensured crores of no-frill bank accounts were opened.

Allocation boosted for some

Among the various ongoing social sector schemes, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee programme continues to command the highest allocation.

The Budget has set aside ₹55,000 crore for the next fiscal, which incidentally is the same amount as the revised estimate for the current fiscal year. It is debatable whether the allocation, the highest since its launch, will be enough considering the high level of rural stress.

 

 

 

In the current fiscal year, the government had to increase outlay for the scheme by about 15 per cent as an increasing number of people demanded jobs. Such increase may become necessary if the monsoons are below par in many parts of the country.

Another livelihood programme, the National Livelihood Mission, also known as Aajeevika, saw almost 30 per cent increase in allocation.

The programme is intended to help people be self-employed and meant to benefit seven crore rural households. Given the low level of creation of new jobs, this mission is critical to enable people set up small enterprises that will provide them steady income.

The National Education Mission, which includes Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, saw its allocation increase over 10 per cent from the revised estimates and 28 per cent over the Budget estimate for the current fiscal year. The Mid-Day Meal Scheme saw 5 per cent increase in the allocation for 2018-19.

The Integrated Child Development Scheme to provide food, pre-school education, and primary healthcare to children under six and their mothers, saw allocation rise by more than 15 per cent over the revised estimates.

Making do with less

The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, which focuses mostly on building toilets for individual households as well as for community usage, has seen its allocation drop from the revised estimate levels for 2017-18.

The government claims about six crore toilets have already been constructed since it was launched in October 2014 and another two crore will be built.

But it is one of the few flagship programmes that saw its funding drop from the revised estimates level. The Prime Minister Awas Yojana, which is intended to provide a house for every poor household by 2022, saw its allocation cut.

While increased spending for social sector schemes is welcome, effective implementation of the schemes is are the key to achieving the intended objectives — an inclusive, equitable and sustainable growth.

Published on February 01, 2018

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