Union Budget 2021-2022 is a Saga of Deception
Presenting the digital Union Budget, Union Minister of Finance and Corporate Affairs stated that India’s fight against COVID-19 continues into 2021 and that this moment in history, when the political, economic, and strategic relations in the post-COVID world are changing, is the dawn of a new era – one in which India is well-poised to truly be the land of promise and hope. The budget 2021-2022 projected 6 pillars. They are: 1. Health and Wellbeing, 2. Physical & Financial Capital, and Infrastructure, 3. Inclusive Development for Aspirational India, 4. Reinvigorating Human Capital, 5. Innovation and Research cum Development, 6. Minimum Government and Maximum Governance.
Further, in her budget speech, the Finance Minister announced the creation of a new centrally sponsored scheme, the ‘PM Atmanirbhar Swasth Bharat Yojana’, which will have an outlay of Rs. 64,180 crore over the next six years and will be dedicated to developing capacities of “primary, secondary and tertiary care health systems”. Ms. Sitharaman also announced a sum of Rs 20,000 crore to capitalise the newly announced Development Financial Institution and noted that the ambition would be to have a lending portfolio of “at least Rs 5 lakh crore” in the next three years.
The Finance Minister also stated, “The government, stretched its resources to deliver for most vulnerable sections of our society – the poorest of the poor, the Dalits, Tribals, the elderly, the migrant workers, and our children … She also announced the setting up of 750 Eklavya model residential schools in tribal areas. The unit cost of each such school was increased from Rs 200 million to Rs 380 million, and to Rs 480 million for hilly and difficult areas. This, she said, “would help in creating robust infrastructure facilities for our tribal students”. Ms. Sitharaman announced the revamping of the Post Matric Scholarship Scheme for the welfare of Scheduled Castes (Dalits) and allotted Rs 352.19 billion for six years till 2025-2026, to benefit 40 million students.
Interestingly, by the time the Finance Minister concluded her speech, the Bombay Stock Exchange index rose by 5%. But then the index has risen 87% since the day the horrific lockdown was announced. The revenues and profits of the largest companies have been growing, and yet their expenditure on workers is declining. This in reality is the horror story of this years budget. Lie, falsehood, deception and deceit have been the mode of governance by the present government. Budget 2021-2022 is the epitome of it.
With his economic, politico-social and legal acumen, Dr. Ambedkar has pointed even before independence to keep the welfare of the people as central to country’s economic policies and programs.
Dr. Ambedkar wrote in his book, “East India Company’s Administration in India and Financial Matters” that the company came for business, but exploited the financial resources of the country. He pointed out that a federal finance system gradually evolved from the tug of war between colonial economic interests of the British rule and citizens’ welfare. Keeping the welfare of the citizens, he recommended as Chairperson of the Drafting Committee of the Constitution that a Finance Commission be constituted to distribute income between the States and Centre.
Based on the recommendations made by him, over the years the country opted for this practice that the States shall raise their financial resources mainly from three sources: 1) From the recommendations of constitutionally created Finance Commission; 2) As per Planning Commission; 3) Special assistance from the centre for natural calamities, for rehabilitation programmes of displaced people, for schemes of development of Dalits and Adivasis.
Dr. Ambedkar went a step further and ensured positive discrimination in favour of the weaker sections. “The State shall promote with special care the educational and economic interests of the weaker sections of the people, and in particular, of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes, and shall protect them from social injustice and all forms of exploitation” (Article 46). But the budget of Modi government has totally destroyed the vision of Dr. Ambedkar and also has made the Tribals and Dalits victims of Bania-Brahmin-Corporate conspiracy.
Earlier Efforts in Budget Preparation
In the past, efforts were made by the government of India to gather as many as recommendations as possible in the run up to the budget preparation. Many of them were not fulfilled but at least reflected the resolve of the government. But now even this is grossly missing. For example, under the People’s Budget Initiative, the Dalit and Adivasi working Group demanded in 2006, out of plan outlay of Rs. 2, 00,000 Crore estimated, being prepared for 2007-08 as per the established guidelines, Rs. 32,000 Crore to be allocated for Schedule Caste Sub-Plan or Special Component Plan and Rs. 14,000 crore for Tribal Sub-Plan. Within this, the demand was: 1) 25% of the land and asset generation component shall get Rs. 10, 000/-Crores. Under this a multipronged approach will be made to give ownership to SCs; 2) 10% of school education component shall get Rs. 3,200 Crores. 10% of this allocation i.e., 320 Crores shell be set apart as grant cum loans for the establishment of Higher Secondary Schools under SC ownership and management; 3) 14,000/- crores to be allocated for the IT Sector, Communication, Small scale Industries, Minerals, Civil Aviation and all others; 4) Further allocations be made proportion to the population at the district level.
The Dalits and Tribals realised that there are clear and categorical data that out of 75 Departments, and Ministries, 22 Departments and Ministries have unilaterally decided that their schemes are indivisible, i.e., there will not be any special component for the weaker sections. This goes against the constitutional Provisions for SC/STs. Hence, it was demanded that the Ministries and Departments also be directed to allocate the budget for the special provision for the SC/ST.
Dalits and Tribals argued that the government is not spending the allocated Rs 24,000 crore for the education of Dalits. If the same amount is spent every year on higher education, 35 lakh Dalits could get higher and technical education and entire scenario can change within a decade or two. They also argued that this will not only change their lives but would contribute in the national development.
Taking into account these facts the Adivasis and Dalits demanded that within the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, a) set up a Separate Task Force for the monitoring the utilization of resources; b) appoint a Deputy Chairperson in the Planning Commission exclusively to deal with SC Sub Plan and Tribal Sub Plan; c) appoint SC/ST representatives in the committees for planning, designing, monitoring and evaluating budgetary process and outcome. In UPA II, the Congress government undertook some of these and some changes were introduced in favour of the Dalits and Tribals.
N C Saxena, member National Advisory Council in 2006 stated the sad state of affairs with respect to government initiatives for investing in children welfare. Giving instances of decline in expenditure, leakages in ICDS, immunization and status of infant mortality rate which is still comparatively high as compared to even smaller countries like Bangladesh; he highlighted the need to increase accountability, transparency and empowering the panchayats. He further asked for increase in budgetary allocation to social sector and the use of effective governance to reduce political discretion.
Similar exercises were undertaken by the civil society, Dalit and Tribal organisations. For instance, Fight Inequality Alliance conducted India Pre-Budget Survey for budget input. It stated that the Union Budget for 2021 2022 comes at a critical time when the economy is at the lowest and the leadership keeps harping that everything is ok. Huge recession is on and more to be expected. This is our chance to tell the Finance Minister about what can make the budget truly inclusive and also growth oriented. But this effort was not welcomed and the NDA government went ahead and presented a budget which is pro-business and corporate.
Budget a Betrayal of the Poor, Dalits and Tribals
As the days passed by after the budget presentation, conscious citizens realised the criminal omission and commission of the present regime. On the whole, India’s rural sector was not addressed by the Budget 2021. The agriculture ministry’s budget is not substantially higher, nor has there been any announcement regarding an expansion in the PM Kisan programme. It is deplorable to see that this government which speaks “Sab ke sath aur sab ka vishvas” has totally deceived the common citizens of the country. Food, Rural Development and Health are the most crucial sectors for the poor, Dalits and Tribals. But the allotment in these sectors have been reduced.
Table 1: Reduction in 3 Crucial Sectors in the Budget
Source: Bajpai. NDTV. 1/2/21
Though, health and vaccination are projected as primary concern of the government, in reality this is not the case. The Prime Minister and Health Minister Harsh had said that the government will bear the cost of vaccinating health and frontline workers using money from the PM CARES FUND. However, they haven’t said anything about whether the government will also assume the cost of vaccinations in the second phase, of 27 crore senior citizens and all the citizens or if state governments will have to chip in.
Realising this lack of political will, some states like Kerala, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, have announced free vaccination programmes. This is a laudable pronouncement since the finances of all states have been badly hit by the pandemic, with the country’s GDP recording a historic contraction of 23.9%. Without additional resources, the vaccination drive will strain the already under-resourced public health system enormously. In the election campaign in Bihar, the Finance Minister was asked to say lie that all the people will be freely vaccinated. But there is no mention of this in the budget since was election was won in fraudulent manner.
The Wire Staff writing on the budget on 1st February, 2021 bemoaned of the fact that in an alarming display of negligence, the Union government has sharply slashed the budgetary allocation for education by Rs 6,088 crore. This has come at a time when schools and universities have remained shut for over ten months and are in desperate need of a special package to get back on track. This in a sense is not a news since education has been a prominent low-priority area for the Modi government. This is underlined by the evidence that it wasn’t able to fully spend the allocation specified in the 2020-2021 budget. While it had set aside Rs 99,312 crore for the education ministry, it could spend only Rs 85,089 crore, in a year that saw thousands of students struggling to attend online classes and had restricted access to formal education.
The intent of the government to disinvest education sector too is clear from the fact that this year’s budget has made provisions to opt for privatise school education. Sitharaman announced that the government would include a hundred government-run Sainik schools to be managed under the public-private partnership programme, and open around 750 Eklavya schools across India. Experts have been pointing out that spending on Eklavya schools, which are single-teacher schools, instead of full-fledged facilities for children should only be a stop-gap arrangement in between the government’s efforts to build permanent education infrastructure. “The sharp dip in the education budget only goes on to show the government’s preference for privately-funded education over the existing model of public education,”
Brinda Karat speaking to NDTV after budget presentation reiterated this fact that the Economic Survey Proves Farmers’ Concerns Are Right. She argued that there is an outright defence of the three farm laws. Even though this was expected, what the Survey does is add to the substantive concerns being raised regarding food security by the farmers’ movements. The emphasis in the Survey is on how to cut down on food subsidies. It underlines the various reports of the government on farm reforms to make the point that the current policies of guaranteed MSP, open-ended procurement leading to surplus stocks, supplying the PDS foodgrains at low, fixed prices is untenable. The proposal in the Economic Survey is to raise the Central Issue Prices of foodgrains under the Food Security Act. As it is, prices of essential commodities have been going up. Thus what the middlemen and business men and now corporates who want to control farming for unrestricted profit will have a field day.
Gautam Modi writing in The Leaflet on 4th February, called the Budget 2022 as Crude Expression of Anti-People Agenda. He agrees with this fact that during the pandemic, the government did spend a little more on the food subsidy and the rural employment guarantee scheme, but the Annual Financial Statement makes it very clear that now it will be business-as-usual. In contrast it is the poor, whose jobs and sources of income vanished during the lockdown, who suffered the most during the pandemic. For, they have paid way more taxes in proportion to their income than the rich. For example, they did not just pay the GST on every essential commodity they consumed, the high taxes on petrol and diesel pushed the prices of these commodities further up. Close analysis of the budget reveals that the poor bore a greater share of the costs of the pandemic than the wealthy.
Subodh Varma writing in the Newsclick last year after the budget undertook a scathing attack on Modi government on its political will not to allot sufficient budget, not spending even the limited allotment and misusing and misinforming the nation regarding his government’s concerns for the Dalits and Tribals. Varma pointed out that the past 5 years, Dalit communities have been deprived of a staggering Rs 272 thousand crore while Adivasis communities have suffered a loss of Rs.114 thousand crores due to drastic under-allocation in successive Budgets. This emerges from an analysis of Budgetary allocations done by National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR) and Dalit Arthik Adhikar Andolon (DAAA).
Here is how the looses are calculated: India has about 201 million Dalits and 104 million Adivasis, as per Census 2011. That’s about 16% and 8% of the total population, respectively. It was standard government policy to allocate that same proportion of funds from the Plan component of the Central Budget to programmes and schemes for Dalits and Adivasis, although earlier. Since the Modi government abolished Plan and Non-Plan differentiation in 2017-18, there was chaos, and for two years, such specific allocations were done by annual guidelines. Finally, based on a Finance Ministry circular of 2016, a system was put in place under which total allocation for all Central schemes and Centrally sponsored schemes was shared in the population proportions.
However, this tragic tale does not end here. A chunk of even the limited allocated amount is spent on general schemes and programmes, although it is shown in the books as spent on these communities. For instance, in this year’s Budget it was revealed that Rs 756 crore was spent on “Compensation to Service Providers for creation and augmentation of telecom infrastructure Bharatnet”, except that this amount was shown under the specific allocation for Dalit/Adivasis!
NCDHR-DAAA has calculated that out of the Rs.312 thousand crore allocated for Dalits in these last five years, just Rs.112 thousand crore was spent on targeted schemes, while the balance of over Rs.200 thousand crore was spent on non-targeted ones, like the scheme mentioned above. Similarly, for Adivasis, of the nearly Rs.202 thousand crore allocation in five years, just Rs.85 thousand crore was spent on targeted schemes and nearly Rs.117 thousand crore went for non-targeted ones. In light of this, it is small wonder that the conditions of Dalits and Adivasis continue to remain substantively the same – poor access to education and health, confined to low skill jobs, forced to live in hovels with meagre civic amenities – and considered second class citizens.
Further, what is allotted is not spent and this is the case year after year. Babu writing in IndiaSpent exposes the fact that the Human Resource Development Ministry has to set apart funds under the two strategies for building schools, providing nutritious meals and scholarships and other similar measures for SCs and STs. Similarly, the agriculture ministry has to set aside funds for providing subsidised seeds and fertilisers and crop insurance to SC and ST farmers. These funds are ‘non-lapsable’ as per the guidelines issued in 2006 and 2014 by the erstwhile Planning Commission. Records show that SCs and STs rarely benefit from these funds.
P S Krishnan, a retired IAS officer and former Secretary to the Government of India pointed this fact that the politicians and bureaucrats have always remained apathetic to the most backward classes, the Dalits and Adivasis. It is this skewed, hierarchical, exploitative and oppressive caste, feudal, patriarchal social system which permeates all sectors of Indian life and mind.
Educate, Organise and Agitate
In the past, there were some mechanisms to get the views of different stake holders under the budget preparation exercise. Concerned citizens, civil society, Tribal and Dalit, Women and Minority organisations would prepare People’s Budget or Citizen’s Budget and exert Pressure on the government to include their demands in the budget. They did this due to 2 reasons: 1) The government was open to listen; 2) The elected representatives from these did not represent them in reality. With openness in the government some of these demands were met. The Common Minimum Program was one such effort from the side of the government and civil society.
The Planning Commission, especially the Dalit and Tribal Section and Women, Health and Family Welfare sections used to organise consultations with the leaders of these communities and social activists to get a pulse of what these communities are recommending in the budget. But with the dismantling of the Planning Commission and introduction of Niti Ayog, this practice too has come to an end. Modi considers himself to be a vishvaguru and possibly feels that he and his government does not need any recommendation, except from the corporates.
The budget fiasco has once again driven home the message that this government is not only fascist, undemocratic and authoritarian but also anti-citizen, anti-Tribal and anti-Dalit. In this deplorable situation, the Dalits, the Tribals, women, minorities and the poor have no option but to resist this government in all fronts. Knowing well that by themselves they can not take on this government and hence should form broader alliance with all the poor and the marginalised of India. Above all, they should align with the farmers’ movement and dislodge this government from the seat of power. If this is not done, then the survival of these weaker sections would be a problem”. Agitations, protests and movements all over India and support from global family has once again reiterated this fact that this regime is a coward and will listen only when it is pushed to the wall.
Finally, the song sung in a film on the Tribal life powerfully brings out this fact that the Tribals alone are the power and potent force that could counter the exploitative government. Moreover, it is the Tribals in alliance with the Dalits and the downtrodden of the country who can reinstate a Tribal and Dalit form of governance, “Adivasi Svashashan” and “Gaon Swaraj” and further uphold Tribal and Dalit identity, resources and life.
‘In my dreams today, On the Dumbari Hills, I asked Brother Birsa, “How can your country survive? You do something for that”.
Birsa’s answer was, “Go to your village, Mobilise the people, and save your country.”
The farmers and civil society have shown the way and now it is our turn before it is too late to align with all those who are opposing this anti-citizen government and challenge it and ask it to roll back this budget. If not we will continue to pay with democracy, secularism, socialism and citizens of the country.
Prakash Louis is Founder of Indian Christians for Democracy