A delegation of the People's Budget Initiative met Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee here on Saturday to demand enhanced resources for the social sector which was crucial for the development of human resource and the nation.

Formed in 2006, People's Budget Initiative is a coalition comprising representatives from people's movements, grassroots organisations, national and international development organisations, academia and the media. The Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability (CBGA) serves as the Secretariat of this coalition.

Unfulfilled promises

The delegation drew his attention to the long-overdue promise, of raising government spending on education to 6 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). At present, the country's total government spending on education is about 3.4 per cent of GDP (as of 2008-09). It needs to be ensured that the Right to Education (RTE) Act is adequately funded by the Union government to ensure free, compulsory and quality elementary education. It is imperative that the Union government significantly increase outlays in Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan for implementing the Right To Education.

The government's commitment in 2004 to raise the country's budgetary spending on health to 2 to 3 per cent of GDP remains unfulfilled. In 2009-10, India's total budgetary spending on health was only 1.06 per cent of GDP. Hence, the Union government needs to take adequate measures towards increasing the country's total budgetary spending on health significantly.

Despite an alarmingly high prevalence of occupational diseases such as Silicosis in the country, there has been scant attention by the government in terms of provisioning for occupational health of workers.

The Union government should provide budgetary resources for strengthening the National Institutes of Occupational Health, training of doctors and awareness generation, the non-governmental organisations said in their charter of demands to the Minister.

Further, to ensure that food security becomes an entitlement for all, there is an urgent need to enact the Right to Food. In this regard, food subsidy in the Union Budget should be increased significantly from the existing outlay of Rs. 55,578 crore (2010-11 BE). The norms of targeting beneficiaries in the current Public Distribution System (PDS) regime must focus on individuals as the unit of distribution of food grains rather than the family. PDS should be expanded to cover food grains such as millets, pulses, and edible oils.

The calorie intake norms of malnourished children under Mid Day Meal scheme should be increased and brought within the ambit of the Right to Food.

For the farm sector, adequate budget allocations should be made towards improvement of dryland/rain-fed agriculture within the existing schemes such as the Integrated Watershed Management Programme, as well as through introduction of new programmes and schemes that take into account the needs of dryland agriculture. Higher magnitudes of funds should be provided for irrigation projects and watershed development projects. The charter pointed out that although several of the Union government schemes are being reported in the Gender Budget Statement, very few of them seem to have been designed taking into account the gender-based disadvantages of women in our country.

Gender issues

There is a pressing need to make the objectives, operational guidelines, financial norms and unit costs of the existing schemes across various Ministries and departments more gender responsive.

Acknowledging that it may be difficult for some of the Ministries and departments to report any funds or benefits earmarked for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in their existing interventions, it is recommended that the Union government formulate new schemes focusing on Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in case of each of these so called ‘indivisible' sectors.

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