Published: 02nd February 2021
Analysis of Union Budget 2021 reveals allocation for children was at ten year low; Child Protection gets raw deal
HAQ: Centre for Child Rights, in its analysis of the budget observed that despite the COVID-19 situation , it has found huge cuts in flagship programmes for children
The Union Budget 2021 was not welcomed with a lot of cheer on February 1 but children and child rights activists are particularly angry with it. This budget, children received the lowest share in the last ten years — only 2.14 per cent of the country’s money for this year was allocated to children. At a time like this, during a pandemic, is when children deserve utmost attention, which is why the budget is a complete letdown, activists feel.
HAQ: Centre for Child Rights, in its analysis of the budget observed that the Budget for Children (BfC) was reduced by 16.22 per cent at the stage of Revised Estimates in 2020-2021. “While the Union Budget has observed an increase of 14.49 per cent in total as against the BE of 2020-21, the share of children has gone down. Even as the Union Budget observed an increase of 13.41 per cent in financial outlays at the stage of RE in 2020-21, the share of children was reduced by 16.22 per cent at the stage of RE in 2020-21,” the report said.
Despite an increase in the number of programmes, the allocation was still quite less, the organisation said in its report, “The Statement 12 of 2021-22 features a total of 121 programmes/schemes, which is a significant 26 per cent increase in the number of programmes which received attention in the previous budget. It is surprising that despite allocations for 121 programmes/schemes coming from 25 Departments/Ministries, the share of children in the Union Budget has gone down from 3.16 per cent in 2020-21 to 2.46 per cent in 2021-22.”
Union Minister Nirmala Sitharaman did not fail to mention the much contended New Education Policy in her speech, attributing new initiatives to it. However, in its report, HAQ found that despite the special interest in the NEP, children had been greatly underfunded, “The share of child education has gone down from 2.18 per cent in 2020-21 to 1.74 per cent in Union Budget 2021-22. Child protection remains least prioritised in terms of resource allocation with a mere 0.03 per cent in the total Union Budget 2021-22.” The organisation pointed out that there had been a 4.8 per cent increase in the number of crimes against children this year, ”A total of 1,48, 185 crimes were committed against children in 2019. A total of 47,335 cases of sexual abuse had been committed against children in 2019, a 18.85 per cent increase since previous year.”As per the Government’s report, a total of 3,70,227 are inside child care institutions and 7422 children are in Observation Homes requiring care and attention, “Yet, only 0.03 per cent of the budget is allocated towards this,” the report pointed out.
Even though the Finance Minister announced 750 Eklavya Residential Schools for the country, HAQ points out that there is a lack of clarity about it, “It is unclear whether the 750 schools is in addition to the already existing 588 Eklavya Schools. Secondly, as per government website, only 173 schools are functional, the 415 remaining schools are yet to be made functional.” If one assumes that the 750 schools are the total number of schools that the government is targeting, the budget is still not sufficient, “We are left with 162 schools to be built with the current allocation. Considering the enhanced unit cost of Rs 38 crore per unit, a total of Rs 6156 crore is required to construct an additional 162 schools whereas the allocation is just Rs 1418.”
“The allocation for the key flagship programme, Samagra Shiksha has been reduced by 19.87 per cent as against the previous year amidst a crisis that has affected child education, particularly in terms of both access and quality of education. The Integrated Child Protection Scheme (ICPS), one of the major flagship schemes, had been merged under Child Protection Services. Now, in the Union Budget 2021-22, Child Protection Services and Child Welfare Services are merged to constitute what is being called Mission Vatsalya, which has received a total of Rs 900 crore. This is a huge shortfall of 40 per cent when measured against an allocation of Rs 1500 crore for ICPS alone in Union Budget 2020-21,” HAQ has found.
The organisation in its report recollected the National Human Rights Commission’s advisories on the need to enhance resources for the welfare of children, “Yet the Union Budget fails to address these concerns by allocating the lowest resources in ten years. During the pandemic, child education has been one of the most severely affected areas which needed major investments in terms of minimising the health risks, bringing down the digital divide and making education accessible and inclusive. Despite these glaring needs, the Ministry of Human Resource Development failed to spend what was allocated to the Ministry in 2020. A month-wise expenditure analysis shows huge month-wise underspending by the MHRD against the allocation at BE stage as the Ministry spent only 59 per cent of the total allocated resources”
The report appreciated the increase in budget for child health which saw an increase of 15.63 per cent, however, it questioned the investment in vaccines, “As highlighted in the Budget Speech, the Pneumococcal Vaccine, which will avert 50,000 child deaths annually does not find any specific allocation either in Statement 12 or Demand of Grants of Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. The vaccine is currently limited to only 5 cities in the country and is supposed to be rolled out for the whole country. But, without any specific budgetary implications, how will this become a reality?”
With regard to allocation toward child education, the numbers are especially disheartening. Despite repeatedly harping on the New Education Policy, the activists criticised the fact that the Centre hasn’t felt the need to allocate more funds towards education, “They talked so much about the NEP, yet child education received only Rs 60,706.92 crore in the Union Budget 2021-22, which is a significant decrease of 8.62 per cent as against allocations in previous budget. What is more, the share of child education in the Union Budget comes down from 2.18 per cent in 2020-21 to 1.74 per cent in 2021- 22. This is even more significant in the context of the NEP that recommends a total expenditure of 6 per cent of GDP.”
Even the budget for scholarships for SC/ST students only saw a very slight increase this year. “COVID-19 has impacted education, especially girls’ education severely, creating a larger gender divide than ever before. Yet the budget for education does not bring any focused scheme/programmes to address the emerging concerns of girls’ education. What is more, the flagship scheme ‘Beti Bachao Beti Padhao’ has been merged under ‘Mission Shakti’. Thus, the specific allocation for this scheme is not available, however, as per response to the Rajya Sabha question, 45 per cent of the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao funds were not utilised in 2019-20,” HAQ argued in its report.
Child Development saw a reduced budget this year too, a significant decrease of 18.55 per cent, the report noted. “It is unclear what is the specific allocation for Poshan 2.0 as in the 2020-21 budget, Poshan Abhiyan had received Rs 3400 crore and ICDS had received Rs 19916.41 crore. Now the current budget of 2021-22 has merged Anganwadis and Poshan Abhiyan as ‘Saksham Anganwadis & Poshan 2.0’ with much reduced allocation of only Rs 19412 crore, which is less than the allocation for ICDS alone last year. This must be seen in the context of the comment by the Union Minister for Women and Child Development Smriti Irani who has acknowledged in the past that only 9 per cent of the children in the country get proper nutritious food,” the report pointed out. The team at HAQ note that in the backdrop of COVID-19, nutritional needs require more attention and even recalled that the Supreme Court made a similar observation. In March 2020, the Supreme Court of India in Suo Motu Writ Petition expressed concern over large-scale malnourishment resulting from non-supply of nutritional food to children as well as lactating and nursing mothers with the schools and Aanganwadis shutting down during the lockdown. It called upon the state governments to ensure that such schemes are not adversely affected, HAQ said.
However, going by the Centre’s analysis, it seems like Child Protection has taken the worst hit budget-wise this year. This year’s budget allocation was 42.85 per cent less than last year, “As per NCRB 2019, every eight minutes a child goes missing in the country. Child Care Services and Child Welfare Services have been merged under Mission Vatsalya, which has received only Rs 900 crore in the current budget. The budget for ICPS in the Union Budget 2020-21 was Rs. 1500 crore. The much reduced allocation of Rs 900 crore will be a blow to the entire child protection services in the country.”
“The decline in the budget for child protection services is seemingly blind to the Supreme Court’s directions leaving the states to grapple with a huge child protection pandemic. In July 2020 the state government of Kerala recorded 68 child suicides during the lockdown. Reports of child suicides from Kolkata and Ludhiana have also emerged during the period. Children as young as nine years of age have been seen to commit suicide and, though research is still scarce on the matter. Will the current allocation for child protection services be able to address such emerging concerns?” the report questioned. They also found that the National Child Labour Programme (NCLP) didn’t see an increase in allocation this year despite several organisations and media reporting the child labour had gone up during the pandemic lockdown.
The positives of this budget is that the allocation for the Mid-Day Meal Scheme has received a 4.55 per cent increase with a total outlay of Rs 11500 crore in the Union Budget and the NRHM-Flexible Pool under child health has observed an increase of almost 16 per cent with a total outlay of Rs 3459 crore in the Union Budget. However, overall, the budget does not hold much promise, the Centre said in its report. “Children’s issues have been juggled around once again, slipping from one major head to another, witnessing mergers, declined allocations as well as complete disappearance. While the COVID-19 situation demands higher allocations and optimal utilisation of resources, what we find is huge cuts in flagship programmes for children. The insistence on improving infrastructure instead of the condition of human lives seems to be the chosen path for national development,” the Centre opined.