New Delhi: About a month before finance minister P. Chidambaram unveils the Union budget, a group of voluntary organizations working in the fields of education, and health and welfare of scheduled castes and tribes have called for greater accountability and transparency, besides increasing people’s participation in budget making and implementation.
The People’s Budget Initiative (PBI)—a coalition of 400 civil society organizations from 23 states involved in the tracking and monitoring of state and central budgets—said poor planning and coverage of social welfare programmes for the marginalized stemmed from a lack of transparency and non-participation of the affected communities in setting budgetary priorities.
PBI representatives met finance ministry officials on 14 January, said Subrat Das, who heads the Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability.
“We have tried to convince the ministry of finance to make public information on commodity wise details of indirect taxes collected and this will enable us to assess the implications of the indirect tax policies on the poor,” he said. “We focussed on some of our key priorities and demands around expenditure proposals, on taxation policies and transparency and the senior officials were responsive.”
These details used to be published until 2000, after which the practice ended, said Das.
One of the issues raised by PBI was the allocation made for the uplift of Muslims under programmes such as the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and the Integrated Child Development Scheme that falls under the purview of the ministry of women and child welfare.
“The ministry of minority affairs has some information... but we do need financial reporting by all the ministries concerned,” Das said.
Another demand was the need to hold consultations as early as October to ensure suggestions can be taken on board, Das said. Discussions in January can only influence tax proposals, he said.
Other demands include increasing spending on education to at least 6% of gross domestic product (GDP) from 3.5% now, improving educational infrastructure, strengthening the public distribution system, recognizing water and sanitation services as a right, devolution of financial powers to village administrations and increasing the number of days of employment under the rural jobs Act to 200 from the current 100.
Ravi Duggal, programme officer, International Budget Partnership, pointed out that despite the government’s promise to allocate 2-3% of GDP to improve health services, this was about 1.1% and actual expenditure was 0.85%.
Paul Divakar, representing the non-governmental organization (NGO) National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights, pointed out that the demand for greater transparency follows funds meant for social programmes being diverted to other areas.