New Delhi: Despite the government’s claims of increasing spending on the social sector—specifically education and health—spending as a percentage of total government expenditure has remained virtually unchanged over the last five years, suggests an analysis of the Economic Survey.
Spending on education has remained static at 10.6% of total expenditure, while spending on health has increased by 10 basis points to 5.1%. The spending on education is currently 2.8% of the gross domestic product (GDP), well below the government’s avowed intention of increasing it to 6% of GDP, which indicates the total economic activity in the country.
“The government has to spend at least Rs1,00,000 crore over the next two-three years in order to make elementary education for all a reality,” said Prof. Yash Pal, a former chairman of the University Grants Commission.
The Economic Survey’s prognosis that “the country will miss the target for providing basic education to all by 2007” was an honest admission of the enormity of the problem,Habil Khorakiwalla, president of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry said. He emphasized the need for going beyond numbers and zeroing in on the quality of education and health through the public-private partnership model.
Education has been a major focus area for the government, led by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who is spearheading the Sarva Shikhsa Abhiyaan, which aims to provide universal elementary education for all children between the ages of six and 16.
Targeting an estimated 194 million children, the government has, under the scheme, opened 1.6 lakh new schools, supplied free textbooks to 5.78 crore children and appointed 6.6 lakh teachers across the country. While most social sector subjects such as education and health are state subjects, the Union government supports programmes that are centrally sponsored. The pattern for funding has varied between states depending on their ability to pledge resources, according to the survey.
“There are always excuses,” Prof. Pal said, about the inability of states to pledge resources for education. “You don’t see the government reducing defence expenditure for lack of resources. Education must be given similar priority.”
Health also remained an area of concern with the government forecasting a shortage of 26,812 health centres. Average life expectancy in India at 63 years is behind China, while infant mortality—62 per 1,000 births—is still above countries such as China and even Bangladesh, according to a 2006 United Nations Development Programme report.
The government stressed the need to rationalize the number of similar schemes aimed at poverty alleviation and reducing unemployment. It pointed out that there were eight separate centrally sponsored schemes aimed either at poverty alleviation or job creation.
While a growing manufacturing sector has resulted in 9.58 million jobs being added between the years 1999-2005 compared to 5.47 million between 993-1999, the unemployment rate has increased to 3.06%, from 2.78% for the corresponding period. The survey attributed this to an increase in the labour force.