New Delhi: In a bid to attack poverty, finance minister Pranab Mukherjee announced lavish spending to build rural infrastructure, reduce poverty and raise employment opportunities among the youth.
Job security: A file photo of villagers in Dilwara district in Rajasthan building a channel for water harvesting under the government’s flagship programme, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. Madhu Kapparath / Mint
The year’s Budget till March 2010 has stepped up outlays for several social sector programmes, such as the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS), and allocation under Bharat Nirman, the government’s time-bound rural infrastructure initiative, which includes housing, roads, drinking water and telephony, has been increased by 45%.
Outlay for NREGS, which guarantees 100 days of wages and work for one member in every rural family, has gone up by 30% to Rs39,100 crore from Rs30,000 crore in 2008-09. Spending on health and family welfare has gone up 21% from Rs17,307 crore last year to Rs21,113 crore.
The Union government’s expenditure on primary education has increased 12%, from Rs26,026 crore last year to Rs29,099 crore.
Through such spending, the government hopes to address the problem of low levels of human development despite high economic growth. According to the United Nations Development Programme’s 2008 update, India ranks 132 out of 177 nations in terms of per capita gross domestic product, life expectancy and education.
Estimates of poverty in India differ. The data from the National Sample Survey shows that 27.5% of Indians were poor in 2004-05 while the National Commission on Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector estimated that 77% of Indians were poor in the same year.
According to National Sample Survey, 27.5% of Indians were poor in 2004-05 while the National Commission on Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector estimated that 77% of Indians were poor in the same year. Ahmed Raza Khan / Mint
Malnutrition remains high in India. About 79% of children below three years of age are anaemic; its incidence among pregnant women has grown from 49.7% to 58% in the decade to 2007. Because poverty is tied to issues relating to basic health and nutrition, the government aims to enhance guaranteed food supply, such as rice and wheat at subsidized rates to the poor, but the Economic Survey that was released last week has pointed out the failure of the government’s public distributing system due to leakages in the delivery system.
Mukherjee announced the government’s commitment to halve the current level of poverty by 2014 by revitalizing old schemes and introducing new ones: Swarna Jayanti Gram Swarozgar Yojana (SGSY) will be revived as the National Rural Livelihood Mission, which will provide interest subsidy of Rs1 lakh for poor household. About 50% of women will be brought under the self-help group scheme in the next five years.
To improve literacy among women, a new scheme—the National Mission for Female Literacy—will aim to reduce illiteracy among women by half in three years.
With the aim of creating 12 million new jobs every year, the government plans to recharge the nation’s employment exchanges to bring employers and job-seekers on a seamless online platform. It also plans to offer skill development training to the country’s unemployed youth; an outlay of Rs450 crore will go towards revamping the country’s industrial training institutes (ITIs) this year.
Health insurance continues to elude a majority of the country’s poor. Only 10% of India’s total organized workforce has any form of social security. To widen the social security safety net to families living below the poverty line, outlay for Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana has been increased three times to Rs300 crore from Rs100 crore last year.
The Centre must reform the budgetary processes and improve fund flow to states for the poor to benefit from the schemes, said Subrat Das, an economist with the Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability, which tracks the central budgetary trends. “The effort must be to link outlays with development outcome,” he said.