Author: Vipul Yash
The Union Budget 2023 presented in India recently has brought a mix of good news and concerns for different sections of society. It brought welcome news for the middle classes of the nation. Tax rebates increased from INR 5 lakhs to 7 lakhs, which led to a wave of relief, which was witnessed across social media. Pro-poor initiatives like PM AWAS Yojana saw a budget enhancement of 66%. It is however important to note that the Union Budget 2023-24 allocated ₹60,000 crores for the MGNREGA scheme. That is 18% lower than the ₹73,000 crore budget estimates for the current year, and 33% lower than the ₹89,000 crore revised estimates for the scheme. This is set to impact social protection which ultimately impacts child protection in the country. The Finance Minister while clarifying the decrease in MGNREGA budget stated, “If I am giving Awas Yojana, who are the people who are going to do the Awas Yojana. It’s the same rural employed, those who are coming to demand (jobs) in the MNREGA. So if I’m giving a provision, where Awas is getting the money, but the labour comes from this set of people who go for the MNREGA job card, it means I’m still giving a job and also after that giving MNREGA.”
While analyzing the budget for children, one couldn’t help but notice the decrease in the share of the budget for children’s welfare. The budget for children is 2.30% of the total budget, the lowest in more than a decade. Even during the peak of the pandemic children of India had a larger share of the overall budget. However, some provisions of the Union Budget 2023-24 have seen a welcome investment like the Eklavya Model Residential Schools Program, which will have 38,800 new recruitment of teachers and staff.
In the budget, the establishment of a National Digital Library, at the panchayat and ward level was proposed. In these libraries, children who do not have devices at home will have access to one, with the availability of quality books across geographies, languages, genres, and levels. If successfully implemented, the digital divide which was clearly witnessed during the pandemic will have an ‘out of box’ solution to it. In a recently released Report by the Delhi Government, 54% of parents of children in classes I to V reported that their children did not attend class because they did not have full access to devices. In classes VI to VIII, this percentage was 50 and for classes XI to XII it was 24. At Protsahan, we had a similar experience in our work with extremely marginalized migrant children at the last mile. The majority of children did not have access to digital devices in their homes. In the ‘Pulse Check Reports’ we reported the problems faced by the children of the migrant community, especially adolescent girls and spotlighted measures to resolve them, including bridging the digital divide by providing tangible access to tablets, laptops and mobile phones.
The budget intent pointed at bringing inclusion and reaching the child at the last mile as being two (2) key priority areas of the government this fiscal year. Keeping this in mind, the ‘Eklavya Model Residential School’ for students belonging to the Scheduled Tribe communities, will have 38,800 new recruitment of teachers and staff for its 740 schools serving 3.50 lakh students. But while speaking about inclusion, we can’t help but notice the 38% reduction in the budget for the Ministry of Minority’s programs for children. Several important schemes like Skill Development Initiative, Merit cum Means for Professional, and Pre-Matric Scholarship for Minorities were put on the chopping board. One silver lining for the Ministry of Minority was an increase of 107% for the Post-Matric Scholarship Scheme for Minorities from Rs. 154.40 crores (BE) in 2022 to Rs. 319.50 crores (BE) in 2023.
The Ministry of Education received its highest-ever allocation of Rs. 112,899.47 crores. While the Department of School Education will receive Rs 68,804 crore, the Department of Higher Education has been allocated Rs 44,094 crore. Most of the major schemes and programs under both departments witnessed an increase in the budget. A major impetus for the education sector came in the form of PM Schools for Rising India Scheme (PM SHRI) Under this yojana, 14500 schools across the country will be selected and upgraded. These schools will become model schools and are expected to encapsulate the full spirit of the New Education Policy 2020. A budget allocation of Rs. 4000 crores has been made for the successful implementation of the PM SHRI program.
The Ministry of Women and Child Development (MoWCD), which primarily deals with the health of children, had a minimal increase of 2.5% in its budget, which will easily be consumed by inflation itself, essentially leaving the ministry with less to offer for children’s well-being. Saksham Anganwadi & POSHAN 2.0 saw a slight increase in the budget from Rs. 17,223.61 crores in 2022 to Rs. 17,471.16 crores in 2023, reflecting an increase of 1.43%. One key objective of POSHAN 2.0 is to curb the challenge of malnutrition. With 35% of children in India still underweight (NFHS – 5), we’ll need to wait and observe how a 1.43% increase in budget will help in bringing down the rate of malnutrition in the next NFHS survey. Mission Vatsalya saw no increase or decrease in budget, with the allocation being Rs. 1472.17 crores, similar to last year.
The allocation for the Gender Budget rose by a robust 23%. But the increase did come with a caveat – it accounted for the entire allocation for the PM Awas Yojana. The allocation for Mission Shakti, under which the ministry’s key schemes for the protection of women including the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao, Women Helpline, One Stop Crisis Centre as well as Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana come under, fell 1.2% from Rs. 3,184.11 crores in 2022 to Rs. 3143.96 crores in 2023. As per Protsahan’s 2022 seminal report, “(POCSO) ACT, 2012 – 10-year analysis of NCRB Data on Sexual Crimes against Children (2012-2022)” India witnessed a 290% increase in rape cases of children since 2012, with 99% of the victims being minor girls. Given the startling number of violent cases against girls, the budget allocation leaves a lot to be desired.