New Delhi: Fighting inequality has become the central focus of the government.
The 12th Five-Year Plan to be approved by the National Development Council (NDC) on Thursday is set to shift its focus from the government’s flagship jobs plan to schemes creating social infrastructure such as those addressing health and education in a bid to fight inequality. NDC advises the Planning Commission, India’s apex planning agency, and its members include the Prime Minister (who presides over it), Union cabinet ministers and state chief ministers.
One way to measure inequality is to compare income growth in the upper and lower income segments of the society. The increase in inequality is evident from the 68th consumption expenditure survey by the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) that was released in August. According to this, the incomes of the top 10% were 6.9 times that of the bottom 10% of the economic group in rural India, compared with 5.8 times in the 66th round. In urban India, the inequality was higher—the top 10% earned 10.9 times what the bottom 10% did in the 68th round; this was 10.1 times in the 66th round.
According to an internal plan panel presentation reviewed by Mint, the government looks upon its flagship programmes as a means to “equalize” regional and interpersonal inequalities. The focus, as reflected in allocations in the 12th Plan period (2012-17) seems to have shifted to social infrastructure schemes such as the National Health Mission (NHM), the Integrated Child Development Scheme and the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) from the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA).
This assumes significance given that MGNREGA was the core of the 11th Plan. As the 12th Plan draft document posted on the Planning Commission’s website puts it, “One of the most important interventions for fostering inclusion during 11th Plan was MGNREGA.”
While MGNREGA has been allocated Rs.1.65 trillion, a 15% increase over its 11th Plan allocation, NHM has got a 278% increase to Rs.2.5 trillion, making it the scheme with the highest allocation in the 12th Plan. SSA gets the second highest allocation of Rs.1.92 trillion, nearly 2.5 times its allocation in the previous period, the document shows.
To be sure, the jobs guarantee plan is still the third largest of the 16 flagship schemes.
Experts said the increase in allocation for health was a necessity given that public expenditure on it as a percentage of gross domestic product was unacceptably low, about 1.05%, much below the government’s targeted 2% in the 11th Plan.
“It is important that the allocation for health has been trebled, but even with this the share of health expenditure (in India) will be much lower than that of other countries,” said N.C. Saxena, a member of the National Advisory Council. He added that while the allocations indicated the government’s intent to prioritize the sector, the actual design of the programme and releases will have to be monitored.
“That the health mission has evolved into a larger funded programme signals that health of all citizens is a priority,” said K. Srinath Reddy, president, Public Health Foundation of India. “This should translate into more funds, especially for primary healthcare in both rural and urban areas, and be used in speedily creating the required workforce to deliver the essential health services.”
The National Rural Health Mission, a flagship scheme in the 11th Plan, has been restructured as NHM to cover both rural and urban areas. “An important component of NHM will be the Urban Health Initiative for Poor, providing public sector primary care facilities in selected low-income urban areas. This will require additional resources in the public sector from the budgets of both the centre and the states, and cities,” the Plan draft says.