(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
March 23, 2008
R Arun Kumar
‘EVERY child is special’, is the by-line of ‘Taare Zameen Par,’ a popular film on children released recently. Our Finance minister regretfully might not have been invited to the preview screening of this film, a regular for politicos these days or he might not have got an opportunity to watch, busy with budget preparations. For, he seems to be one among the many who still believe that ‘only the so-called bright or smart children matter and deserve education of the best quality’.
The budget in spite of all the claims of being good to education is deceptive to describe it in a single word. It is true to the saying ‘all that glitters is not gold’. The NCMP states that ‘the UPA government pledges to increase public spending on education to atleast 6 percent of GDP with at least half this amount spent on primary and secondary sectors. This will be done in a phased manner…’ All the five opportunities it had to increase the spending in a ‘phased manner’ are over with this budget. The Economic Survey points out that public expenditure on education as percent of the GDP is only a paltry 2.84 percent for the year 2007-08. This huge gap between the ‘promise’ and reality can be bridged only if the government could allocate gigantic proportions of money for education in its last budget.
Though allocations to education were increased by 20 percent compared to the previous year, the allocations as a percent to the total budgetary allocations have not witnessed any increase compared to last year. The Economic Survey placed in the parliament stated that education is allotted only 4.58 percent of total budgetary allocations last year and this remains the same even for this year. This once again means that there will not be any significant increase in the percent of GDP allocated to education even for this year. Thus it can be stated without an iota of doubt that the UPA government failed in implementing one of its important promises made in the NCMP.
BUDGET IN SYNC WITH
The budget is in sync with neo-liberal thought and the New Education Policy of 1986 that emphasises on providing quality education to few at the cost of education for all. All through the five years of the budgets that were placed on behalf of this government, the Finance minister picked and chose some institutes for special treatment while on the other hand virtually starving many others of funds. This year too nothing was different. An additional scheme that had come in this budget is the proposal to start 6000 new ‘high quality model schools’ on the lines of Navodaya and Kendriya Vidyalayas with an allocation of Rs 650 crores. At the very outset, it should be made clear that nobody is or can be against starting quality education institutions. These ‘centres of excellence’ should not be established as islands in the ocean of mediocrity. The government should have a more holistic approach and should not try to pit quality against quantity.
The failure of the government to increase the allocations to education substantially and then spend all the money that is allocated to education is adversely affecting the vast majority of the people who are poor and thus dependent on the government for providing their wards with education. Whatever money is allotted, is first going towards meeting the expenses of the few ‘centres of excellence’ and only the remaining little is being spent on the rest of the government institutions that are in big numbers. The UPA government’s promise that ‘proper infrastructure will be created in schools for…all students’ thus remains illusive.
The Finance minister instead of showing his sincerity in the implementation of the NCMP promises, preferred once again to play a game with numbers. He had, in fact, perfected the art of ‘increasing allocations’ for education in his budget speeches and thus boasting of his social concerns, while in reality cutting those allocations, once through the year.
NOT BEING SPENT
Thus, one of the ‘achievements’ of this government lies not only in the fact that it regularly downsizes the budgetary allocations for education, but also that in practice it is not ready to spend even the allocated amount. This shows the government’s political will or the lack of it. In the first budget of the UPA (2004-05), it was announced with much fanfare that allocations for elementary education are increased to Rs 8004.58 crore (RE). The government according to the budget statistics spent Rs 7943.34 crore only. Even in 2005-06 the government spent only Rs 11,984.11 crore while the allocated amount was Rs 12,536.33 crore. In 2006-07 the government spent only Rs 16897.52 crores for school education and literacy while the allocated amount was Rs 17132.71 crores. It had spent only Rs 6912.09 crores on higher education while the allocated amount was Rs 6982.28 crores. Last year the government announced with a lot of hoopla that it was allocating Rs 9209.5 crores to higher education, of which the plan allocations were Rs 6480.50 crores. This year’s budget statement shows that the government has in fact cut down those allocations by nearly half to Rs 3261.35 crores as shown in the revised estimates. This naturally leaves one skeptical even though the government claims that it is increasing this year’s budget for education.
WHERE IS THE
There is no dearth of rhetoric in the minister’s speech when he talked about the ‘welfare of the SC, ST and minorities. He boasted of announcing a ‘slew’ of schemes and promised to continue them with ‘adequate funding’ as they receive ‘special attention’ from the government. So many words but unsubstantiated with monetary allocations! Though there are marginal increases made for the welfare of SC/ST, the allocations for scholarships provided to them have been cut. Post-matric scholarships for SCs are reduced to Rs 731 crores from the last year’s revised estimates of Rs 811 crores. The estimates are revised last year to cover 33.86 lakh students. This year’s budget mentions that this scheme would cover 36.30 lakh students. Instead of increasing the budgetary allocations to meet the demands of the increasing number of students, the government has reduced the allocations. This entire exercise has to be understood in the background of the official order that the government had issued in the later part of last year and was subsequently forced to withdraw under enormous protests from the students. We have been arguing that the government’s intention expressed through this circular is to curtail the number of beneficiaries under the scholarship scheme and ultimately to do away with this ‘burdensome’ scheme. This intention of the government is once again expressed through the ‘special attention’ it had shown to the SC students by reducing their scholarship funds.
Moreover, the government has announced the Rajiv Gandhi Fellowship Scheme for the research scholars among the SCs with much fanfare. Last year, it has allocated Rs 88 crores for the scheme and failed to implement it properly. Instead of rectifying its lacunae in the implementation of this scheme the government has cut down the budgetary allocations for the scheme to Rs 75 crores. So much for their claims and talk of social justice and inclusive growth. It needs to be seen as to what all those tall leaders of social justice enjoying ministerial responsibilities in the government will do now.
ON MID DAY MEALS
The Finance minister in his budget speech mentioned that the Mid-Day-Meal scheme would be extended to all the upper primary school children throughout the country. The budget states that this would mean an increase of the number of children covered under this scheme by nearly 2.5 crore and thus this scheme would now cover 13.9 crore children. This is welcome initiative but the resources allocated to the scheme cast a question mark over the materialisation of this intent. The budget has increased the allocations to Rs 8000 crores that is an increase by Rs 676 crores from the last year allocations. Let us note an interesting fact here. The government had claimed in the year 2006-07, that this scheme is covering 12 crores primary school children and expressed its intention to include the children of upper-primary schools from 3427 educationally backward blocks into this scheme in 2007-08 academic year. Naturally, this should mean an increase in the number of children covered under this scheme. But as this year’s budget states, the number of children has actually come down to 11.4 crores, less than the primary school children the scheme covered the previous year. Only the Finance minister can tell us what had happened to all those n-numbered upper-primary school children and the 60-lakh primary children! According to the amount allocated to this scheme last year, each child got Rs 2.03 per day (a calculation made for 12 crore children for 10 months of academic activity), but this year the amount is going to be further reduced to Rs 1.91 per child per day. Of course both the calculations do not consider the allocations made by the respective states to this scheme with a strong assumption that the states do not chip in with that extra money to cover the center’s cut. So, all the tall claims of providing ‘nutritious and healthy food’ will not materialise.
This is the same with another of their ‘flagship’ programme the Sarva Siksha Abhiyan (SSA). The allotments for this scheme have gone down by Rs 71 crores from the revised estimates of last year. (from 13171 crores to 13100 crores). The amount cut might appear to be meagre but this is significant because it was also supposed to provide resources for the additional 410 Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya (KGBV) that the minster had promised to establish this year in educationally backward blocks. Moreover, this cut to a scheme concerned with the primary education that is considered as a priority area for the government all the more reflects the attitude of the government.
NO ROBUST ALLOCATIONS
TO MATCH ROBUST GROWTH
Reports have appeared in the media that the Finance ministry has cited the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management (FRBM) Act 2003 and expressed its inability to allocate necessary resources to implement the recommendations of the Oversight Committee. This Committee as we all remember is established to suggest ways and means to implement the government’s commitment towards social justice and reserve 27 percent of seats for the OBCs and simultaneously increase the total intake by 54 percent. According to Oversight Committee, last year the government was supposed to increase the allocations by Rs 4278 crores but fell short by Rs 2200 crores and subsequently did not allocate even the partially increased amounts as the revised estimates for last year presented in this year’s budget show. This year too, the government was supposed to allocate Rs 3518.72 crores. But the budget has allotted only Rs 2522 crores for this purpose and this casts serious apprehensions on the government’s motives.
The budget talks about the government’s intention to continue with the ‘privatisation’ of ITI s, at the behest of the World Bank in the garb of private-public partnership. Experience in states like Haryana has proved that this move is detrimental to the interests of the students and common people. Moreover, the budget also states that the government has accepted the recommendations of the National Knowledge Commission, one among them is for an increase in the fees collected from the students together with levying of user-charges. This too, is detrimental to the access of education to the majority in our country, contrary to the NCMP promise that ‘nobody is denied of professional education because he or she is poor’ and cannot be accepted.
The prime minister has talked of the Eleventh Plan as ‘educational plan’ and announced the establishment of a slew of educational institutions during this period. It is good that the budget too talks about many new institutions, but unfortunately, a big question mark remains over the resources that are required for their establishment. We are already into the second year of the plan period that had started with a ‘robust growth’ but nothing of that sort is being witnessed in education sector, as there are no ‘robust’ allotments. The government it seems is content with making populist announcements and do little to translate them into reality. It should realise that the people are mature enough to see through their deceptions. The previous NDA government too had its ‘election budget’ and followed it up with a ‘shining India’ campaign. All these failed to deceive the people and they were voted out of power. The same fate will befall this government if it does not match its rhetoric with action and continues its policy of deception.