Farewell to welfare

Posted on: 10 Jul, 2014

The budget is a patch work of abandoned schemes revived or existing ones being re-named. This is all for rural development

“One fails only when one stops trying.” Finance Minister Arun Jaitley rose to present his budget with these profound words. After more than two hours of speech—the budget speech comprised 16,536 words, one of the highest in recent past—with a highly unusual five-minute break, specially requested by him, Jaitley appeared to have failed as he simply “stopped trying”. The budget, the first for the new government, looks like a standard company account with debit and credit entries. Except for the revival of some controversial projects taken up during the NDA government 10 years ago – the Special Economic Zones and the River inter-linking project – and renaming a few ongoing programmes, the budget doesn’t have anything new to offer, either in the form of policy or by way of practices involving governance.

First, let’s look at the rural development programmes. The employment guarantee scheme, MGNREGA, that always accounts for a major chunk of the central budget, got a mention in four lines with the absurd articulation that government will use the labour under the scheme only for creating productive assets. The law already has “non-negotiable” provisions for the same since its inception. Is it a deliberate attempt of the finance minister to give a political message that the earlier government’s programme, however important or critical it may be, needs to be ignored? The suspicion got stronger as one waited for the budget speech to mention other similar flagship programmes of the earlier UPA government. Jaitley didn’t mention the Food Security Act, there was no mention of the rural health mission, no mention of the conditional cash transfer programme like the Janani Suraksha Yojana. There was also no mention of the Direct Benefit Transfer programme.

If the core programmes of the earlier government didn’t get any political weightage in his speech, what new thing did he suggest for the rural development sector? Before the budget he said in public interactions that mindless populism is to be avoided. But let’s have a quick look at some of his new programmes.

He made 13 specific allocations for programmes targeted at the rural population, besides many more policy and intent expressions. Out of the 13, all are either re-orientation of existing programmes into schemes with names of BJP-related personalities or revival of a few programmes taken up during the last NDA government (1998-2004). Take for example, the Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana. With Rs1,000 crore allocation to  aid access to irrigation in rainfed areas, this is just a reframing of the much maligned Accelerated Irrigation Benefit Scheme already in existence. Similarly, the Kisan Vikas Patra, a definitely popular investment bond, has been revived to fund public agriculture investment.

The other flagship idea of Modi, “Skill India”, is no different from the ongoing National Skill Development Mission initiated by the former prime minister, Manomohan Singh. It does talk about the enhancement of traditional skills. Similarly, the Swatchh Bharat Abhiyan, the mission to help India achieve total sanitation by 2019, is a just a renaming of the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan.

Poor get the short shrift

On the specific issue of better targeting of subsidies to the beneficiaries, the budget makes just a passing remark—that there will be a review—even though this is an issue that needs urgent attention. Due to lack of proper targeting and identification of beneficiaries, huge public investment for the poor have gone wasted. But we didn’t get a ring side view of the government’s vision on this.

Read more here-  http://www.downtoearth.org.in/content/farewell-welfare#.