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Business News/ Budget 2019 / Budget Expectations/  It is back to the basics for the govt on social sector spending

NEW DELHI : In the recent election, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) big connect with the electorate was that it had delivered on basic promises such as toilets, housing, cooking gas and electricity to an estimated 230 million people. After the election, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the government would pick up where it left off and has added the delivery of drinking water to its pledge. Social sector spending is thus likely to occupy centre stage in finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s first budget.

“The government is committed to providing shelter, access to drinking water and electricity as these bring stability to people’s lives. These are the foundation as well as stepping stones to better health," said a senior BJP leader.

Social sector spending has always been low in India compared to other countries.

According to the Economic Survey 2017-18, the expenditure on social services, including health, education, and skill development, by the Centre and states as a proportion of gross domestic product (GDP) had remained in the range of 6% during 2012-13 to 2014-15.

It marginally declined to 5.8% in 2015-16 and then moved up to 6.6% in 2017-18, as per budget estimates.

India spends 1.02% of the gross domestic product on public healthcare, while Maldives spends 9.4%, Sri Lanka 1.6%, Bhutan 2.5%, and Thailand about 2.9%. Sri Lanka spends about four times as much as India per capita on health and Indonesia more than twice, according to National Health Profile 2018.

In education, India’s public investment in education is around 2.7% of GDP, while it is 3.4% in Sri Lanka and 7.4% in Bhutan. A report by UNICEF and the International Labour Organization found that 30.3% children are extremely poor in India. It noted that across India girls suffer systematic discrimination.

“Gender should be incorporated in all measures of development. To ensure gender justice, there should be adequate budgetary allocation and implementation should be effective," said Ranjana Kumari, director of the Centre for Social Research.

Last month, representatives from the social sector met Sitharaman to offer suggestions for the upcoming budget. These included a focus on education and hygiene, audit of cities to identify security gaps, and increasing allocation for nutrition of infants, pregnant women and the elderly.

“There is a need to set up a national fund for the aged, and a self-employment scheme for the elderly to offer gainful engagement opportunities to retired older persons. This will not only boost the economy but will also help the elderly," said Himanshu Rath, founder chairman of Agewell Foundation.

Gyan Verma contributed to this story.

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Updated: 03 Jul 2019, 11:39 PM IST
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