Budget focus is on primary and elementary education

Describing them as the "backbone" of the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee on Monday announced doubling of the remuneration for anganwadi workers and helpers. The new wages, benefiting 22 lakhs of them, will be effective from April 1.

In his 2011-12 budget speech, Mr. Mukherjee said he proposed to increase the monthly remuneration for anganwadi workers to Rs. 3,000 and for helpers to Rs.1,500.

The budget proposes to enhance the social sector allocation by 17 per cent over the current year, which is Rs. 1,60,887 crore amounting to over 36.4 per cent of the total plan allocation though it is less than expectations. The focus in the education sector is more on primary and secondary education and less on higher education.

A special fund for women self-help groups has also been announced. The creation of a Women SHGs' Development Fund with a corpus of Rs. 500 crore will be to "empower women and promote their self-help groups".

SC, ST sub-plan

For the first time, specific allocations are being earmarked for the Scheduled Castes sub-plan and the Tribal sub-plan. These will be shown in the budget of the relevant Ministries and Departments under separate minor heads of account. The allocation for primitive tribal groups has been increased from Rs. 185 crore to Rs. 244 crore.

The rights to information and education are effective tools of empowerment for removing social imbalances, Mr. Mukherjee said while announcing a 24 per cent hike over the current year's allocation for education. "Our demographic dividend of a relatively young population compared to developed countries is as much of an opportunity as it is a challenge," he said, pointing out that over 70 per cent of Indians would be of the working age in 2025.

In this context, universalising access to secondary education, increasing the percentage of our scholars in higher education and providing training skills were necessary, the Minister said as he announced an allocation of Rs. 52,057 crore for the education sector.

The operational norms of the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan have been revised to implement the right of children to free and compulsory education, which has come into force since April 1, 2010. For 2011-12, the budget allocation is Rs. 21,000 crore, 40 per cent more than for the current year.

A revised Centrally sponsored scheme, “Vocationalisation of Secondary Education” will be implemented from 2011-12 to improve employability of youth.

The Minister proposes an additional Rs. 500 crore for the National Skill Development Fund for the next year.

The National Skill Development Council (NSDC) is well on course to achieve its mandate of creating a 15-crore skilled workforce two years ahead of the target year 2022. “It has already sanctioned 26 projects with a total funding of Rs. 658 crore. These projects alone are expected to create more than four crore skilled workers over the next 10 years.”

Scholarship for SC, ST

The government also proposes to introduce a scholarship scheme for needy SC and ST students in classes IX and X. It will benefit about 40 lakh students.

A sum of Rs. 50 crore each has been announced for the upcoming centres of the Aligarh Muslim University at Murshidabad in West Bengal and Malappuram in Kerala. Both States go to the polls in a few months from now. A one-time, Rs. 100-crore grant for the Kerala Veterinary and Animal Sciences University at Pookode (Kerala) and Rs. 10 crore each for setting up the Kolkata and Allahabad centres of the Mahatma Gandhi Antarrashtriya Hindi Vishwavidyalaya at Wardha, Rs. 200 crore as a one-time grant to IIT-Kharagpur, and Rs. 20 crore for the Rajiv Gandhi National Institute of Youth Development at Sriperumbudur, near Chennai, have been announced.

For health, the allocation has been stepped up by 20 per cent to Rs. 26,760 crore. The Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana is now being extended to cover unorganised sector workers in hazardous mining and associated industries of slate and slate pencil, dolomite, mica and asbestos.

Under the ongoing Indira Gandhi National Old Age Pension Scheme for below the poverty line beneficiaries, the eligibility is proposed to be reduced from 65 to 60 years, and the amount is to be raised from Rs. 200 to 500 a month for those above 80.

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