How effective is the Union budget 2021-22 in terms of its offers to women and children?
On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced the COVID-19 outbreak as a pandemic. Additionally, on March 24, 2020, the Indian Prime Minister announced a three-week nationwide lockdown as a reactive measure to deal with the situation. After exactly one year on track, is there a need to reassess and analyze the most vulnerable groups in our society and what the Indian government has to offer women and young children?
According to the ‘Direct and indirect effects of the pandemic and the response to COVID-19 in South Asia’, a report by UNICEF (ROSA), “the number of deaths among children under 5 years old is expected to increase at total of 228,641 in the six countries. South Asian country in 2020 compared to the previous year, with 134,789 of these deaths expected to occur during the neonatal period. The largest increases are expected in India (154,020, 15% increase) and Pakistan (59,251, 14% increase) respectively ”, due to the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The report is based on the six most populous countries in the South Asia region (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka). The report was released in March 2021. It studied the impact of COVID-19 on mortality, hospitalizations and intensive care admissions due to the disease and the effect of the national lockdown on maternal and child mortality, the educational attainment of the children and the economy of the region. The report indicated grim results for all countries with a significant impact of COVID-19 on maternal and child mortality, education and the economy.
The unprecedented pandemic epidemic in 2020 severely affected the marginalized segments of our society, especially children. Due to this situation, the requests were for higher allocations in the Union budget 2021-22 under the children’s sectors. Child-related plans and programs (such as safety, love and care, health, nutrition and education), which, even before the COVID-19 situation, required strengthening and attention in budget allocations, have faced unprecedented massive cuts and mergers. In the 2012-22 EU budget, children received the lowest share over the past ten years.
Several schemes are merged under another framework scheme in the 2021-2022 Union budget. Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) is pummeled with Poshan Abhiyan, Scheme for Adolescent Girls, and National Creche Scheme under ‘Saksham Anganwadi and POSHAN 2.0“. Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana (PMMVY) was clubbed along with Beti Bachao Beti Padhao, Mahila Shakti Kendra and Gender Budgeting / Research, Publication and Monitoring under ‘SAMARTHYA“. The noon meal program has not been equated with any other program in this budget.
When every sector related to children needs special attention and strengthening, these mergers and budget cuts severely affect all beneficiaries linked to the schemes.
|Sectoral share in the Union budget 2021-22 (in percentage)|
|Year||Health BE||BE development||Education BE||Protection BE||Other than BfC|
Source – HAQ: Center for Child Rights report (Budget for Children 2021-22 Cast in Shadows)
The table gives us an overview of the budget allocations over the years in the social sectors. The sectoral share of health, education, development and child protection received reduced allocations in the Union budget 2012-22. The share of health, development and child protection does not even represent 1% of the total budget. The share of children’s education increased from 2.18% in 2020-2021 to 1.74% in the Union budget 2021-22. This budget cut is a matter of concern as we look forward to the new 2020 education policy, which for the first time included preschoolers and also focused on digital education. The question that needs to be addressed here is: if we don’t have a budget to meet the basic needs of our children, then who are we imagining this digital education for?
The main takeaways from the HAQ and Right to Food campaign reports are as follows:
- The Supplemental Nutrition Program has been merged with the current Poshan Abhiyan. A new Mission Poshan 2.0 has been launched with a total expenditure of Rs. 19412.60 Crore.
- The Midday Meal Program allocation received a 4.55 percent increase with a total expenditure of Rs. 11,500 Crore in the Union budget 2021-22 compared to the budget allocated in the Union budget 2020-21 from Rs. 11000.
- SAMARTHYA (PMMVY with other programs) is allocated a budget of ₹ 2,522 crore, compared to the allocated budget of ₹ 2,500 crore for only PMMVY in the 2020-21 budget.
- The ICDS and the National Creches Scheme (NCS), now both with reduced allocations, come under SAKSHAM. The revised estimates for 2021 for the National Nutrition Mission / POSHAN flagship program are only ₹ 600 crore compared to the budget estimate of ₹ 3,700 crore.
Source – Right to Food Campaign Report
In the graphic above, Anganwadi ‘more’ (SAKSHAM) is’Saksham Anganwadi and POSHAN 2.0“. The budget has been reduced even when there are mergers under a new department. There should have been an increase in the budget when the mergers were proposed. This implies reduced budget allocations for individual schemes.
Some recommendations presented in the report of the right to food campaign “ Women and children ignored in the EU budget 2021-22 ” are as follows:
- Hot meals cooked under ICDS and midday meals should be reactivated immediately. In addition, these meals should be extended to children under three years of age in nurseries and pregnant and breastfeeding women in community kitchens.
- The budget for ICDS and midday meals should make adequate provision for the inclusion of eggs.
- Universalization and unconditional “maternity rights”. The amount of the benefit must be increased to at least ₹ 6,000 per child, in accordance with the provisions of the NFSA.
- Minimum wage and decent working conditions arrangements should be made for all workers providing care, such as Anganwadi workers and helpers, ASHAs.
Despite the inclusion of preschool children in the new education policy, 2020, the children’s sectors remain underfunded. It is high time for us to recognize that education does not start at the age of 3. All of the aforementioned issues and sectors related to children under the age of six have an impact on their education and their lives. If all of the child’s basic needs are not met, they fall behind the child whose basic needs are met in childhood. It is therefore imperative to allocate a higher budget to children for their holistic development. In addition, being aware of the period in which we find ourselves, i.e. the post-pandemic situation, where women and children are slowly returning to work and school, the emphasis must be placed on on support and motivation.
Swati Shukla is ECD Knowledge Facilitator at Mobile Creches, New Delhi. She is also working as a visiting faculty at the School of Professional Studies at Ambedkar University Delhi.