The budget continues to deprive pregnant women, lactating mothers and children from vital benefits of schemes and interventions
There has been a surreptitious silence on the nutrition security of women and children during the pre-budget consultations. The private sector think tanks have maintained the deafening silence through the ongoing novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.
In effect, the nexus of economic policy makers and the ‘big-bull market’ have used the pandemic as an excuse to push for laws and policies directed at selling out public sector resources and capital.
Even as the Union government is aware of the scourge, challenge and crisis of malnutrition and its concomitant manifestations in the vicious intergenerational cycle of maternal and child morbidity and mortality, it was mute on this aspect while preparing the Union Budget 2021-22.
The government has allowed itself to deprive pregnant women, lactating mothers and children from the vital benefits of schemes and interventions that are time and evidence-tested. It looks amply clear that the collusion of the corporate lobby and policy makers ensured that the resource base of nutrition programming is slashed.
A question also arises whether the government’s stated concern on the ‘worrisome results’ of National Family Health Survey-5 released in November 2020 was only a lip service.
The fact of the matter is that the budgetary allocation to the Union Ministry of Women and Child Development has been cut to to Rs 24,435 crore from Rs 30,007.1 crore in financial year 2020-21. This is a significant decline by of 18.6 per cent.
It was widely claimed time and again that the package of more than Rs 21 lakh crore is meant to protect the country from the ill effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and that it was being demanded that additional allocations for the nutrition of children, pregnant and lactating women and adolescent girls be made in the wake of rising unemployment and food crisis.
However, instead of providing the much-needed enhanced allocation, an unmindful budgetary cut has been made. The total budget for the Union Ministry of Women and Child Development has been reduced by Rs 9,000 crore (from Rs 30, 000 crore to Rs 21,000 crore) during the budget revision in the FY 2020-21.
Out of the Rs 20,532.38 crore allocated in the head of Anganwadi Services, Rs 3,280 crore were not allowed to be spent (in Revised Budget) on Nutrition of Children and other Anganwadi Services.
The provision of Rs 20,532.38 crore was made for Anganwadi Services in 2020-21; it has now seen a decline. The central Government has merged Anganwadi Services with Poshan Abhiyan-National Nutrition Mission. It is now called ‘Saksham Anganwadi and POSHAN 2.0’, the allocation for which is Rs 20,105 crore.
It includes Umbrella ICDS — Anganwadi Services, Poshan Abhiyan, Scheme for Adolescent Girls, National Crèche Scheme.
Our country is already struggling with widespread gender insensitivity on one hand, and the poor implementation of the Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana (PMMVY) on the other. Nearly 48 per cent of the budget allocation for PMMVY was revised from Rs 2,500 crore to Rs 1,300 crore. It means that almost half the women are excluded even from the minimalist provision.
A new name has been introduced for women Empowerment programmes but the budget allocations for them have been cut down. Beti Bachao Beti Padhao, crèche, PMMVY, gender budgeting / research, skilling programmes will now be called SAMARTHYA. They have been collectively allocated Rs 2,522 crore.
According to the output-outcome document of the budget, it is established that this entire allocation is only for implementing PMMVY. Does it mean that there is no allocation for Beti Bachao Beti Padhao, crèche, gender budgeting / research and skilling programmes?
What about our children?
Holistically, we are failing to keep our promises to our children as well. In the financial year 2019-20, only 2.99 per cent (Rs 80.44 thousand crore) of the total government spending (Rs. 26.86 lakh crore) was devoted to children, who account for 42 per cent of the country’s population.
In 2020-21, Rs 96,040 crore (3.17 per cent) were allocated for children from the total expenditure of the Government of India (30.42 lakh crore), but the actual expenditure was only 80,500 crore. The total central government spending has gone up almost by Rs four lakh crore (Rs. 34.50 lakh crore from Rs. 30.42 lakh crore), but the expenditure on children has come down by almost Rs 16,000 crore (16 per cent).
It is a matter of priority and empathy towards the young and adolescent population. In FY 2021-22, only Rs 85,710 crore (2.46 per cent) of the country’s budget was allocated for 550 million children. It comes to Rs 4.20 per day.
It is with deep displeasure that one sees the budget for the Department of Education and Literacy being slashed to Rs 53,600 crore from 59, 370 crore. The budgetary allocation for child protection was cut down 40 per cent — from Rs 1,500 crore to Rs 900 crore.
Views expressed are the author’s own and don’t necessarily reflect those of Down To Earth
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