No cheer for India’s children in interim budget

February 17th, 2009 - 7:03 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Feb 17 (IANS) The interim budget for 2009-10, presented in the Lok Sabha Monday, has brought down allocation of various child welfare programmes as compared to previous years, says a budget analysis done by a city-based children’s rights organisation.

“On issues of health, education, protection and nutrition, the children have either received less in 2009-10 or their share has remained the same,” says the analysis report by Haq: Centre for Child Rights.

“From a share of 5.28 percent of the Union Budget in 2008-09, which declined sharply to 4.53 percent in the revised figures for 2008-09 even as general government expenditures went up, the total share of children in the interim budget has gone down sharply to only 4.32 per cent,” it added.

“Even as the pie gets smaller for the average Indian in a tough year, children get even less of it,” said Enakshi Ganguly, co-director of Haq.

“Why else would it (the United Progressive Alliance or UPA government) nearly halve allocation for the scheme on improvement in the working condition of women and child labour under the labour ministry to Rs.90 crore (Rs.900 million) in 2009-10? ”

This, she said, was despite the government managing to spend only Rs.146.63 crore out of the Rs.156 crore granted in the 2008-09 budget.

Moreover, Ganguly said, the 2001 census acknowledges that the number of economically active children between the ages of 5-14 rose to 12.6 million in that year, accounting for over 7 percent of the population.

Other flagship schemes of the UPA government have met the same fate.

“Take Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), the aim of which is to put every child in school. The budgeted outlay of Rs.13,100 crore for SSA in 2009-10 remains the same as what had been budgeted for and spent in the current year.

“Even in the moderately successful Mid-day Meals Scheme, which now covers all school children in classes I to VIII, the outlay remains exactly the same in both the years, Rs.8,000 crore,” said the Haq report.

Ganguly said about 98 percent of India’s habitations have primary schools, but the quality of elementary education “remains abysmal and dropouts remain high”.

Between 2003-04 and 2008-09, the allocation for this programme increased by 571 percent. “Not anymore.”

According to the Haq report, the only scheme that has bucked the trend of neglect is the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS), which has actually seen a small rise in its outlay in 2009-10, a 6.3 percent increase to Rs.6,705 crore.

The total budgeted expenditure for child welfare schemes of the Department of Women and Child Development has gone up marginally to Rs.6,517 crore in 2009-10 from Rs.6,507 crore in 2008-09.

Similarly, the total budget for elementary education has seen a paltry increase of 0.45 percent in 2009-10, although a new scheme called the Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyaan has been introduced with an allocation of Rs.1,143.46 crore.

“Accounting for the severe inflation that we saw in 2008, it is possible to argue that the government is actually spending less on children in 2009-10, a year that promises, according to the budget speech, to be one of extreme adjustment and hardship,” the report says.

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