DR.T. SUMATHY (A) THAMIZHACHI THANGAPANDIAN (CHENNAI SOUTH):
Let me begin by saying that a road to disaster is paved with good intentions. Although the Government brought out this budget with a lot of fanfare, it is a budget which is made for the rich. It is a vengeful attack in disguise on our farmers. It has not only reduced the budget allocation for agriculture and allied activities but also slashed allocation for support schemes from Rs. 2,000 crore to Rs. 1,501 crore.
Unfortunately, the faith of the middle class has also not been rewarded in kind. With no tax relief, no cut in GST rate and customs duties increased as well as the increase in the cess on petrol and diesel, the Government want to burden the already burdened middle class more.
Let me address the most affected section of our society, the budget allocation for the Scheduled Castes (SC)/Scheduled Tribes (ST). There is a total gap in the allocation of Rs. 1,12,863 crore under SC Budget and Rs. 60,247 crore under ST Budget. Out of the total budget allocated for SCs, only Rs. 48,397 crore has been allocated towards targeted schemes that accounts 4.5 per cent and for STs, it is Rs. 27,830 crore (2.6 per cent). Thus, most of the allocations are either notional or general in nature. On the whole, the SCs & STs are losing out a significant amount due to non-adherence to NITI guidelines.
On the education front, the Government announced Rs. 35,000 crore for five years with a total of Rs. 7,000 crore per year for Post Matric Scholarship for SCs, however it is disappointing to see that only Rs. 3,866 crore has been allocated, and for STs, it is Rs. 2,146 crore which is insufficient to cater to the growing demand of students. In the Department of School Education and Literacy, out of the total allocation of Rs. 9,420.68 crore under SCC and Rs. 5,297.40 crore under STC, only four schemes have direct provisions for SCs and STs and they account only Rs. 3,041.50 crore. for Scheduled Castes and Rs. 1,783.50 crore for Scheduled Tribes. It is only 32 per cent and 33.66 per cent of the total sub-plan allocation under the Department respectively. The entire allocation under the Department of Higher Education both under SCC i.e., Rs. 3,843 crore and STC i.e., Rs. 1963.45 crore is notional and paper allocation. They do not directly benefit the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribe students.
The Hathras case, where a Dalit woman was raped and murdered brought out the stark reality of caste-based violence in the country. Growing cases of violence as registered under the PoA, about 42,000 cases in the year 2018 alone. However, the allocation for the implementation of the PoA Act and implementation of PCR Act is a mere Rs. 600 crore.
Moreover, SC and Adivasi women are the marginalised within the marginalised and are often pushed outside of the development paradigm. The total allocations for SC women are Rs. 15,116 crore and ST women are Rs. 7,205 crore which amounts to 1.4 per cent and 0.67 per cent respectively of the total eligible Centrally Sponsored schemes and Central Sector schemes. There is also absolutely no allocation for Trans persons. This is a serious concern which needs to be addressed.
Manual scavenging which is an evil that should have been eradicated from the beginning has seen a spike. For FY 2021-22, an amount of Rs. 100 crore is allocated which is Rs. 10 crore lesser than the previous year’s allocation. This is a pittance compared to the number of people engaged in this work. It is also sad to see that the Pre-Matric Scholarship for children of those engaged in unclean occupations and prone to health hazards has received no allocation this year as compared to Rs. 25 crore in FY 2020-21.
In the Union Budget 2021, the Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced that senior citizens above the age of 75 years, who only have pension and interest as a source of income will be exempted from filing the income tax returns. While it is a welcoming move, one must see the sugar-coated pill. The announcement does not mean that the senior citizens who are above 75 years age are exempted from paying tax but that they are only exempted from filing an income tax return (ITR), if they are eligible to certain conditions. The exemption from filing income tax returns would be available only in the case where the interest income is earned in the same bank where the pension is deposited. Moreover, the Government has decided to reduce the interest on the deposits by senior citizens, denying the senior citizens better financial support during the time in their lives when they most need it.
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced a new healthcare scheme – the Pradhan Mantri Atmanirbhar Swasth Bharat Yojana – with a Rs. 64,180 crore ($8.7 billion) outlay. The Centre’s allocation to the Health Ministry for 2020-21 was Rs. 67,112 crore ($9.18 billion). This new scheme appears to make a 100 per cent increase in the entire health allocation.
However, this would be operationalised over six years. Moreover, the detailed budget document does not have any mention of this scheme for 2021-22. So, it is unclear how much of this money would make its way into any health spending this year.
The Government also announced an unprecedented outlay for healthcare, Rs. 2,23,846 crore ($30.6 billion), which the Finance Minister said is an increase of 137 per cent over the 2020-21 budget. However, although conventionally the outlay on healthcare has referred to the outlay to the Health Ministry alone, the Government this time has presented the healthcare budget in a more intersectional manner. It has combined many existing heads in some way related to healthcare even if not managed by the Health Ministry. In other words, no new budget-heads of money have been created for healthcare, but already existing ones have been added up, which gives this increased figure of 137%.
The increased allocations are arrived at by adding the following budget heads: Health Ministry, AYUSH Ministry, Department of Drinking Water and Sanitation, allocations by the Finance Commission for Health, Water and Sanitation, and a new allocation of money for COVID-19 vaccination.
One must ask the question, how much did the Health Ministry itself get? The answer is not much. This is even though the country went through one of its greatest challenges in the form of the Pandemic.
In budget 2020-21, India’s Health Ministry was allocated Rs. 67,112 crore ($9.18 billion) just as the COVID-19 pandemic in India was taking off. Revised estimates – or the money estimated to have been spent – for the current financial year are Rs. 82,928 crore ($11.4 billion).
For 2021-22, India’s Health Ministry has been allotted Rs. 73,931.77 crore ($10.12 billion). This is up 10.16 per cent from the budget estimate for 2020-21, but down 10.84 per cent from the revised estimate for the current financial year.
I must draw your attention to the fact that people lost access to routine health services, which must be made up for. More allocations were thus a need of the hour to deal with new health issues. The budget, unfortunately, fails to reflect any of this. Let me reiterate that a 10 per cent increase in health allocations this year, in a country that has always been under-spending on health, is not good enough.
New data from the first phase of the National Family and Health Survey, 2019-20 in December 2020 showed that nutrition levels in India had fallen. A quarter of children surveyed in 18 of 22 States were stunted, according to the same Government data. Under-nutrition, wasting and stunting levels among children have shown a rise in a majority of States for which data were released, and this could reverse decades of work India has done to address this issue.
The budget today could have addressed this problem, but fails to show a larger allocation for nutrition services. Unfortunately, there have been no substantial changes to allocation for nutrition services within this new budget, which is also problematic because the ICDS (Integrated Child Development Services) was already not reaching children even in earlier years.
Moreover, we already know from revised budget estimates over the last few years that many women are not getting the maternity entitlements to address their nutrition and that take-home ration in anganwadis is happening at low levels.
Coming to the Mid-Day Meal scheme which caters to the nutrition needs of school-going children. Around 116 million children rely on mid-day meals, according to Government data. Despite this, the Government has only allotted Rs. 500 crore more for 2021-22 (Rs. 11,500 crore) compared to the current financial year (Rs. 11,000 crore). This is abysmal. The children who are the most vulnerable to health consequences unfurled by the Pandemic will suffer more. This move not only puts the children’s health at risk but the future of our country has been jeopardized.
Allow me to put this in perspective. While only Rs. 500 crore goes to our children’s health needs, the Government is willing to pump Rs. 20,000 crore in the Central Vista Project, with the cost of the new Parliament Building alone at Rs. 971 crore. This Government will turn a blind eye to our country’s children but it will prioritise building Central Vista.
The Government has announced that Rs. 35,000 crore ($4.7 billion) would be allocated for COVID-19 vaccines. This is nearly half of the entire Health Ministry’s allocation. Out of this, Rs. 11,756 crore has been earmarked for COVID-19 to the Health Ministry, from its overall budget. A sum of Rs. 360 crore has also been marked for the process of vaccinating healthcare workers. Here, I must ask the question that what is the fate of PM Cares Fund, which according to some reports collected at least Rs. 9,667.9 crore till the end of May 2020?
I am thankful that the hon. Finance minister mentioned the vulnerability of the migrant workers. However, it is disappointing that most of the measures announced like food security are not new. Some have been around for a while and others are an extension of established practices such as a minimum wage floor and insurance.
The MGNREGS was in a dire need of funds. Many migrant workers who returned home to their villages sought local employment under MGNREGS. As we saw, many States ran out of funds when the demand for employment soared.
While the Budget Estimate for 2021-22 sees a 19 per cent rise in allocation for the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) over 2020-21, that is, from Rs. 61,500 crore ($8.44 billion) to Rs. 73,000 crore ($10.02 billion), however, this is a 35 per cent reduction from the 2020-21 Revised Estimates (the amount estimated to have been spent) for MGNREGS, Rs. 1,11,000 crore ($15.23 billion) – the year that saw immense migrant distress. Added to this, there is also an 89 per cent rise in revenue expenditure for village-based and small-scale industries over 2020-21.
The budget is focussed on rural livelihoods and employment generation but there is little for urban livelihood issues that are all grouped under the larger category of urban development. Inter-State migrants lose out on social security entitlements when they work in destination cities.
A majority of migrants to India’s metro cities typically settle in urban peripheries where access to crucial services is already limited due to a preference for the native population in social security schemes, migrants have difficulty in accessing State insurance/healthcare schemes in different States. Enrolment for State social security schemes is often conditional on beneficiaries meeting domicile requirements. This is a problem that remains unaddressed.
Of the 18 million emigrant population that the country had in 2020, about 4 million were brought back during the COVID-19 crisis. The budget has no provision for returnee emigrants at the central level, leaving key source States such as Kerala, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Rajasthan to tackle the issue independently.
It is unfortunate that the 34 per cent rise in capital expenditure promised in the 2021-22 budget – from Rs. 4.12 lakh crore ($56 billion) in 2020-21 to Rs. 5.54 lakh crore ($76 billion) – may not do much to resolve the employment crisis caused by the pandemic-led lockdown.
The budget has reduced the allocation for the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS), the flagship programme for employment generation in India’s villages, and a lifeline for millions of unemployed migrant workers who had to return home during the lockdown. It has also not introduced any urban jobs initiatives along the lines of MGNREGS, as advocated by livelihood agencies in the wake of the pandemic-led economic distress.
The Ministry of Labour and Employment has been allocated Rs. 13,306.5 crore ($1.82 billion), Rs. 413 crore less than the Revised Estimate for 2020-21. Of this, the allocation for existing social security schemes for workers is down 3.4 per cent to Rs. 11,104 crore ($1.52 billion). In December 2019, four months before the lockdown, about 48 per cent of India’s workforce was self-employed and by August 2020, this number rose to 64 per cent, indicating declining job opportunities.
Although the Finance Minister announced schemes and allocations across textiles, shipping and infrastructure sectors that hold the promise of increased employment, however, these schemes are unlikely to be realised anytime soon. Experts also pointed to the lack of relief for India’s micro, small and medium enterprises (MSME), a sector that employs nearly 40 per cent of the country’s informal workers. This sector was hit the worst by the lockdown with many small units going bankrupt. While the allocation for the MSME Ministry in 2021-22 doubled from the current Financial Year’s Budget Estimate of Rs. 7,572 crore to Rs. 15,700 crore, 64 per cent of the allocation is for the Guarantee Emergency Credit Line (GECL) facility, a scheme for providing fully guaranteed and collateral-free credit to MSMEs, business enterprises, individual entrepreneurs and Micro Units Development and Refinance Agencies (MUDRA) borrowers.
The rural jobs programme, which guarantees 100 days of work a year to adult members of every rural household, has 144 million active workers. Distressed jobless migrants returning home during the lockdown had applied for work through MGNREGS but over 9.7 million households in need of jobs could not find any.
In June 2020, a record budgetary allocation of Rs. 61,500 crore ($8.4 billion) for MGNREGS (2020-21) had to be supplemented with an additional Rs. 40,000 crore ($5.5 billion) to deal with the pandemic-led employment crisis. Despite an increased budgetary allocation of Rs. 73,000 crore for 2021-22, the amount being made available is 35 per cent lower than the 2020-21 Revised Estimate – amount estimated to have been spent (as opposed to the amount budgeted for at the start of the fiscal year) – of Rs. 1,11,500 crore ($15.3 billion). Given the acute and widening economic inequalities in India, the budget could have been an opportunity to strengthen MGNREGS and stem distress migration to cities.
Efforts to analyse the job distress during the lockdown showed that India does not have data on its informal and unorganised sector. The Government admitted in Parliament that it did not have data on the number of migrant workers who had been rendered jobless or died during their long walk home. It set up an expert group to gather migrant data and suggest ways to improve their work conditions and job opportunities.
The budget has included Rs. 150 crore for a national database on unorganised workers. It has proposed a new portal to collect relevant information on gig, building and construction workers, among others, to help formulate health, housing, skill, insurance, credit and food schemes for migrant workers. But the budget announcement to provide social security to gig and platform workers for the ‘first time globally’ is only a reiteration of the Government’s code on social security as no allocation has been announced for the purpose. However, the code does not clearly define who a platform, gig and casual worker is, making this provision difficult to implement.
Current military tensions on the border with China in Ladakh have increased costs of the Army and the Air Force with the increase in deployment of troops and military aircraft all along the northern borders. The border tensions have also spurred the need to buy new military hardware to urgently plug gaps. Despite that there is no hike in the Defence budget.
The Rs. 4.78 lakh crore Defence budget (including Defence pensions) saw a modest hike of a little over Rs. 6,000 crore or 1.4 per cent among the most meagre increments in recent years. The Defence budget is usually hiked by around 10 per cent or roughly Rs. 40,000 crore each year. A comparison of the Budget Estimates and the Revised Estimates for 2020-21 showed an increase of Rs. 20,766 crore last year this additional spend was to buy new military hardware following the Ladakh standoff.
It is ironical that Government that slept on the demands of the people of Tamil Nadu for five years have woken up to them. The Union Government announced a slew of measures for the State – from multiple roadways costing the exchequer over Rs. 1 lakh crore to exclusive projects for Tamil Nadu’s coastal districts which include a Seaweed park. It also included the construction of phase two of the Chennai metro railway of 118.9 km for Rs. 63,246 crore. Two expressways connecting Chennai have also featured in the Budget. The first is the Bengaluru-Chennai Expressway that is expected to cover 278 km.
Although I am thankful for the Government to finally acknowledge the people the Tamil Nadu, I must ask the question that when will Tamil Nadu see even a paisa of these projects? After the polls or before the polls? Is it not a sugar-coated candy being shown to the people so that they vote for you? Then I must inform you, Sir, that people of Tamil Nadu are not swayed by empty promises. Your push for the Chennai-Salem corridor which has already faced immense backlash from farmers, environmentalists and activists is an indication that you do not recognise the needs of people.
What was needed was stress on farmers’ incomes, effective steps for fixing remunerative prices for agriculture produce, and major irrigation schemes to convert rain-fed farmlands into irrigated ones. But that section has been ignored.
Even as the estimated credit flow to agriculture has been increased to Rs. 16.5 lakh crore, most small and marginal farmers do not get institutional finance usually, and that only agriculture industries and corporate farming sector got the major share. Also, no announcements made on subsidy for fertilizers and other agricultural inputs.
Further environmental disaster has been a major cause of every farmer but the long-pending demand of constituting a fund for Natural Disaster Compensation for farmers was also not announced.
The Global Burden of Disease assessments have shown air pollution is the second largest public health risk factor in the country, after malnutrition. In her Budget speech, Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharman announced Rs. 2,217 crore for 42 urban agglomerations with million-plus populations ‘to tackle the burgeoning problem of air pollution’. The allocation follows recommendations of the 15th FC report for 2021-2026, tabled in Parliament shortly after Sitharaman’s Budget speech, to provide performance-based grants to urban local bodies (ULBs).
The Government first introduced these grants in the previous Budget with an allocation of Rs. 4,400 crore. They were based on the 15th FC’s interim report for 2020-2021 and were to be released in two tranches: 50 per cent unconditional up front, and then based on performance in the last quarter. After many delays, the Government released the first tranche of Rs. 2,200 crore in November 2020. This amount may not be spent fully since the ULBs were underprepared to absorb these funds.
The total grant amount has been reduced by nearly half in this year’s budget, without a clear justification. The 15th FC grants complement the NCAP: only ULBs can utilise them, and they are meant only meant for million-plus cities. So, NCAP remains the only route for financial support to 90 of the 124 non-attainment cities – i.e., those identified under NCAP to not be conforming to the national air-quality standards. Consequently, the cities which are not covered under NCAP like Chennai which also reels under severe air pollution do not receive any support. Even for the million-plus cities receiving FC grants, NCAP remains the only route for AQM-specific funds from the Centre to key State Government agencies, such as the State Pollution Control Boards and the Transport Departments.
There is no marked increase for NCAP this budget. Allocations for ‘Control of Pollution’ have increased slightly, from Rs. 460 crore last year to Rs. 470 crore this year. The Environment Ministry itself had projected a need for Rs. 660 crore under this line item for 2020-2021.
Consider the following: in the first year of NCAP (2019-2020), the Government distributed Rs. 300 crore among 102 cities, with the largest cities receiving Rs. 10 crore each, and those like Guwahati getting only Rs. 20 lakh. Installing just one air-quality monitor costs Rs. 1.2 crore.
Worryingly, against the already modest allocation of Rs. 460 crore for ‘Control of Pollution’, the Revised Estimates this year are down to Rs. 280 crore, suggesting a significant reduction in the Environment Ministry’s spending on NCAP. Overall, against a Budget Estimate of Rs. 2,942 crore for the Ministry, the Revised Estimate for 2020-2021 is Rs. 1,970 crore. The Government perceived protecting the environment to be a luxury during the pandemic.
Ujjwala has been an important intervention to improve air quality, as households burning traditional solid fuels for cooking and space-heating account for about 30 per cent of outdoor pollution. Increased household access to cleaner fuels like LPG will help.
Since May 2020, LPG subsidies have essentially been discontinued, although the Government provided three free LPG cylinders to Ujjwala beneficiaries, as part of the relief package. The Centre has thus missed an opportunity to revamp LPG subsidies and increase support for poor households, a policy that could have addressed air pollution exposure and doubled up as social protection as well.
Lastly, I wish to talk about the Gender Budget. Mounting evidence indicates that the COVID-19 pandemic had a disproportionately negative impact on India’s women. In 2017-18, women’s labour force participation reached its nadir over the last five decades, falling to 23.3 per cent, among the lowest globally as per the National Sample Survey Office’s Periodic Labour Force Survey 2018-19. The pandemic has only aggravated this, as women faced disproportionate job losses – the labour force shrank by 14 per cent for women versus 1 per cent for men between December 2019 and December 2020, as per Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) data.
Moreover, the gendered digital divide restricted women’s access to online education, health and work opportunities, given that only 21 per cent of Indian women use mobile internet compared to 42 per cent of men, according to the GSM Association’s (GSMA) The State of Mobile Internet Connectivity 2020 report.
Despite this, the proposed budget for the Union Women Child Development Ministry was reduced by over 18 per cent as compared to the last fiscal. To make matters worse, there is no allocation earmarked for the Centre’s flagship Beti Bachao Beti Padhao scheme. The sum set aside for the Ministry in 2021-22 is Rs. 24,435 crore. It was Rs. 30, 001 crore last year, which was later revised to Rs. 21,008 crore. Sir, it is extremely disappointing that out of the Rs. 760 crore allocated between 2017-18 and 2019-20, only Rs. 499 crore were released out of which Rs. 319.5 crore were spent on media advocacy under the campaign.
The prolonged closure of Anganwadi centres disrupted access to reproductive and maternal health services. Women are heavily reliant on public transport services. In urban areas, even though they comprise 19 per cent of ‘other workers’, 84 per cent of their trips are made using public transport, according to a report by the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy. Disruption of public transport services, and tightened mobility restrictions, resulted in women becoming increasingly confined to their homes.
Women across income classes bore a greater burden of unpaid care work, be it childcare due to school closures or elderly care owing to pressure on healthcare services during lockdowns, found a UN Women report.
In a country where large numbers of women face some form of domestic violence, and 52 per cent of women and 42 per cent of men believe it is justified for a husband to physically assault his wife, the shadow pandemic of domestic violence exacerbated women’s challenges during COVID-19.
The overall quantum of the Gender Budget continues to remain below 5 per cent of the total expenditure laid out in the Union Budget 2021-22 and less than 1 per cent of GDP. Over the 2005-06 to 2020-21 period, the Gender Budget, on average, was allocated 5 per cent of total expenditure.
An amount of Rs. 63,800 crore ($8.7 billion) was added to the current financial year’s original Gender Budget estimate of Rs. 1,43,462 crore ($19.6 billion). This increase was primarily driven by COVID-19 emergency measures, such as Direct Benefit Transfers under the PM Jan Dhan Yojana, LPG connections to poor households and MGNREGS. Consequently, the current financial year’s Gender Budget (Revised Estimate, or the amount estimated to have been spent) was increased to 6 per cent of the total allocation and crossed 1 per cent of the GDP. However, in Union Budget 2021-22, the total allocation has been cut to Rs. 1,53,326 crore ($21 billion), 26 per cent lower than 2020-21. It is 4.4 per cent of total budgetary expenditure and 0.7 per cent of GDP.
Only 34 of the over 70 Central Ministries and Departments reported allocations in the Gender Budget Statement in 2021-22. Between 2005-06 and 2020-21, 90.3 per cent of the Gender Budget was allocated to just five Ministries and Departments: Rural Development, Women and Child Development, Agriculture, Health and Family Welfare, and Human Resource Development. This trend has continued in 2021-22, with the same five Ministries receiving 87 per cent of the allocations. For gender concerns to be mainstreamed, all Ministries should get allocations for gender concerns, experts say.
Barring the Ministry of Women and Child Development, the Gender Budget remains only 30-40 per cent of these Ministries’ overall allocation. Thus, even for Ministries with a preponderant share of the Gender Budget Statement, expenditure on women’s needs is a small proportion.
Allocations for new priority areas requiring immediate focus as a result of the pandemic comprised just 2 per cent of Gender Budget 2021-22. Recognising the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on women globally, the United Nations has highlighted several key areas as short-term priorities for Government action, including social protection, prevention of domestic violence, skill training, public transport, digital literacy and support for unpaid care work.
Spending for social protection schemes was increased to 21 per cent of the Gender Budget in 2020-21, largely owing to the financial inclusion programme PM Jan Dhan Yojana and the free cooking gas programme for poor families, PM Ujjwala Yojana, but these find no mention in the 2021-22 Gender Budget. Notably, a small allocation has been made for rural digital literacy under the PM Gramin Digital Saksharta Abhiyan in 2021-22. Support for skills training and public transport has remained flat. Child care and elderly care services, supported by the National Creche Scheme, were merged into the Saksham Anganwadi and Poshan Scheme 2.0 in 2021-22, and hence a separate allocation was not provided. Moreover, flagship centrally-sponsored schemes which form the core tools of post-COVID-19 recovery, including the Jal Jeevan Mission (a scheme that aims to instal a functional tap in every rural household by 2024), Smart Cities Mission (an urban renewal programme to develop smart cities across India), and Shyama Prasad Mukherjee Rurban Mission (a local economic development program aiming to bridge rural-urban divides through the creation of rurban clusters) were missing from the Gender Budget Statement for 2021-22.
Lastly, I would like to end this speech by quoting Noam Chomski. “There are growing domestic social and economic problems, in fact, maybe catastrophes. Nobody in power has any intention of doing anything about them… there’s really no serious proposal about what to do about the severe problems of health, education, homelessness, joblessness, crime, soaring criminal populations, jails, deterioration in the inner cities – the whole raft of problems… In such circumstances you’ve got to divert the bewildered herd, because if they start noticing this they may not like it, since they’re the ones suffering from it… In the 1930s Hitler whipped them into fear of the Jews and gypsies. You had to crush them to defend yourselves. We have our ways, too. Over the last ten years, every year or two, some major monster is constructed that we have to defend ourselves against.”