The budget has prioritised capital expenditure for addressing the needs of public infrastructure along with some focussed welfare initiatives in crucial sectors
The thrust of the Union budget this year has been on increased capital expenditure for achieving the dual targets of economic recovery and job creation, especially against the backdrop of the COVID-19 induced economic and livelihood crisis.
There is an increase in post-matric and pre-matric Scholarship schemes for Scheduled Castes, which includes sizeable funds for the PM-AJAY scheme to ensure development of SC-dominated villages and districts.Also, there is an increase in post-matric and pre-matric Scholarship schemes for Scheduled Castes, which includes sizeable funds for the PM-AJAY scheme to ensure development of SC-dominated villages and districts. There has been fund allocation for the PM-YASASVI scheme, that includes scholarships for Other Backward Classes (OBC), De-notified Tribes (DNT) and the Extremely Backward Classes (EBC), which is extremely crucial for promoting educational opportunities to the vulnerable communities. Also, the allocation for the SEED scheme for economic empowerment of DNTs increased from last year’s INR 28 crore to INR 40.4 crore this year. An amount of INR 1,225.15 crore has also been allotted to the Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities. The budget has laid down that the Pradhan Mantri-PVTG Development Mission has been allotted an expenditure outlay of INR 15,000 crores in the next three years in order to improve the socio-economic conditions of 75 identified vulnerable tribal groups across the country residing in 31,000 villages. One of the innovations of this budget has been the PM VIKAS or Pradhan Mantri Vishwakarma Kaushal Samman, which would give financial assistance to traditional artisans and craftspeople in the country that would help to improve the quality, production and consumption of their products. Also, the allocation for the government’s housing programme, the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY) has been raised by 66 percent to over INR 79,000 crore that would help to continue promoting affordable housing. The Mahila Samman Savings Certificate, a small savings scheme with a tenure of two years and with an interest rate of 7.5 percent has been allocated for women. The budget has also increased the upper deposit limit of the Senior Citizens Savings Scheme from INR 15 lakh to INR 30 lakh.
One of the innovations of this budget has been the PM VIKAS or Pradhan Mantri Vishwakarma Kaushal Samman, which would give financial assistance to traditional artisans and craftspeople in the country that would help to improve the quality, production and consumption of their products.The budget estimate on healthcare was INR 86,200 crore in 2022-23, which was revised to INR 76,145 crore in comparison to the estimated outlay of INR 89,155 crore for this year. Healthcare constituted 2.2 percent of the total budgetary allocation last year, which has slightly dipped to 1.97 percent this year. However, the budget has laid down a vision for ‘innovation in pharmaceuticals through centres of excellence, multidisciplinary courses for medical devices to ensure availability of skilled manpower and establishing nursing colleges.’ The National Digital Health Ecosystem, National Tele-Mental Health Programme, and the initiative to eliminate sickle cell anaemia have been the major highlights in the domain of healthcare in this budget. Though the National Health Mission (NHM), Pradhan Mantri Swasthya Suraksha Yojana (PMSSY), National AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome) and STD (Sexually Transmitted Diseases) control programme have received an increase in allocation, more focus is needed to improve primary healthcare. As per studies on this, India had 69,265 hospitals in 2019, which comes down to one hospital for every 20,350 Indians. Also, a sizeable section of people in the country are not covered by medical insurance and have to rely on out-of-pocket expenditure for medical treatment. Hence, a further push towards strengthening primary healthcare infrastructure is needed.
A focussed long-term protection plan for internal migrant workers was missing in the budget.In the agrarian sector, there has been a fall in income from cultivation in absolute terms in the last few years, with COVID-19 further aggravating the crisis. But, this year, the food and fertiliser subsidises have faced budgetary cuts and there has been limited fund allocation for dairy, animal husbandry, and fisheries. Though there has been an increase in the Minimum Support Price (MSP) in the last few years, the cut in subsidies is likely to impact the small farmers. Agrarian reforms are required to ensure long-term development. The food distribution scheme has been modified, with the distribution of 5 kg of cereals under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY)—introduced during COVID-19—being stopped while the free food distribution under the Food Security Act would continue. Therefore, the overall food subsidy has been reduced from INR 2.87 lakh crore in 2022-23 to INR 1.97 lakh crore in 2023-24. The allocation for the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee ACT (MGNREGA), which has been instrumental in addressing the challenge of employment crisis during the pandemic, has been cut from INR 73,000 crore in 2022-23 to INR 60,000 crore in 2023-24. However, the government has assured to allocate more funds for MGNREGA as per subsequent demands. The overall budget allocation for the Ministry of Minority Affairs has been reduced by 38 percent, though the budget for post-matric scholarship for minorities has been increased this year. India has 45 crore internal migrants, amongst which a sizeable section of migrant workers linger in acute vulnerability, which was clearly revealed during the COVID-19 pandemic crisis. However, a focussed long-term protection plan for internal migrant workers was missing in the budget. Though the government has taken initiatives, during the pandemic, to ensure better food, shelter and livelihood provisions for migrant workers, long-term structural social welfare initiatives to mitigate their vulnerability is an area that needs urgent redressal. The budget has prioritised capital expenditure for addressing the needs of public infrastructure along with some focussed welfare initiatives in various crucial sectors. However, greater emphasis on socio-economic upliftment of vulnerable sections would further strengthen India’s multi-dimensional welfare architecture that plays a pivotal role in improving the lives of larger sections of people.
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Ambar Kumar Ghosh is an Associate Fellow under the Political Reforms and Governance Initiative at ORF Kolkata. His primary areas of research interest include studying ...Read More +