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Social spend needs Budget boost

Allocation has remained same since 2007

Social sector spending has flatlined over the past few years, and massive spending expansions are required to keep Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s key promises, Budget data show.

Social sector spending — expenditure on health, education, water supply, sanitation and housing among others — has doubled over the past 10 years as a proportion of the Union government’s total expenditure. But the big expansion came between 2004 and 2007, and more or less flattened at around 12 per cent of the total expenditure since then, show data from the Economic Census for various years.

In its first Budget in 2014, the National Democratic Alliance government held allocations for most flagship United Progressive Alliance schemes close to what the outgoing government made in its last Budget, an interim one prior to the Lok Sabha elections.

However, the release of funds has slowed down sharply for some schemes such as the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (earlier known as Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan), while delays have grown on the ground for others such as the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, show data from Accountability Initiative, which monitors public finances. A senior official of the Rural Development Ministry, however, attributed this to “the usual friction during change in government,” which the official said would ease soon.

If the government is to follow through on its promises, the Union Budget to be presented on Saturday should be a break from the past.

Urban Development Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu pegged the cost of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan at Rs. 2 lakh crore over five years, a sum yet to be formally budgeted. Should the Budget reflect this expenditure, an allocation of Rs. 40,000 crore will be required, which is 10 times the allocation last year and two-and-a-half times the entire Budget for the Drinking Water and Sanitation Ministry for 2014-15.

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