It was a mixed bag for the welfare sector in the budget that Finance Minister O. Panneerselvam presented on Thursday. While established lobbies expressed disappointment, some other groups of people were surprised with positive announcements in the Assembly.
The Tamil Nadu Government Nutritious Meal Employees Union has thanked the Chief Minister for wide-ranging changes to be made to the noon meal programme, in addition to providing funds for additional infrastructure for kitchens and store rooms. Mr. Panneerselvam announced that 14,130 kitchens would be constructed during the year at a cost of Rs. 359.70 crore. They have further petitioned that anganwadi workers’ jobs be regularised; and providing a solatium of Rs. 50,000 to the families of retired nutritious meal employees.
In the disability sector, there is some appreciation for setting up a high level committee to ensure that the three per cent reservation for the differently abled in government jobs is implemented. However, there is also much disappointment that the sector has been assigned just a para in the budget speech.
According to the Disability Rights Alliance (DRA) Tamil Nadu group representatives, “The State has not considered the need to allocate for the promises made by the government towards promoting accessibility and universal design in public buildings and spaces, and the 12 Plan mandate to allocate reasonable amounts by all the departments of the State government, district and local administration.”
Meenakshi B., and Sudha Ramamoorthy, both members of DRA, charge that the government has also not considered demands from the disability sector towards skill development, inclusiveness in higher education, and reasonable accommodation. Other areas that have been ignored are transition from institutional living to community living, awareness and sensitisation of implementing and monitoring authorities, research and development, supply of devices, aids and appliances.
“The State Budget 2013-14 has allocated Rs. 263 crores for the Department for the Welfare of the Differently Abled of which Rs. 131.05 crore has been earmarked for maintenance allowance specifically for people with severe disabilities, mental retardation and muscular dystrophy,” Meenakshi says.
“How can the government extend full support for inclusiveness with just Rs. 800 per person (apart from maintenance allowance). This is the entire amount that is available for implementing the remaining 54 schemes for persons with disabilities”.
Increased allocation for health
The allocation for health is Rs. 6511.76 core, a substantial increase over last year’s Rs. 5,569.28 crore. Of this, a sum of Rs. 750 crore will go towards the Chief Minister’s Comprehensive Health Insurance Scheme. Two new regional cancer centres are to be set up in Thanjavur and Tirunelveli and a sum of Rs. 20 crore has been allotted to strengthen operation theatres at medical college, and district headquarters hospitals.
The speech also contained a further promise that special measures to promote and popularise Indian systems of medicine would be announced by the Chief Minister at a later date.
The government has also proposed to launch a separate health insurance scheme for pensioners, in order to reduce their burden of health expenditure.
Further, the assistance given to each bereaved family under the Tamil Nadu Pensioners’ Family Security Fund Scheme will be enhanced from Rs. 35,000 to Rs. 50,000.
From the fresh financial year, the coverage under the Chief Minister’s Comprehensive Health Insurance Scheme will be extended to the Sri Lankan Tamils living outside the refugee camps also, the Finance Minister said.