At a time when minority communities have been passing through difficult times and need reassurance and support, the union budget has come as a rude jolt for them with its big cuts in allocations for such obvious priorities as education and skills. What is more, as the now available data shows, there were very big cuts in the previous year 2022-23.
These cuts in the previous year as well as huge disruptions faced by informal sector workers and small-scale entrepreneurs due to pandemic related factors had created conditions in which the Ministry of Minority Affairs needed a significant increase in its resources for the year 2023-24, but exactly the reverse has happened.
The original allocation for the Ministry of Minority Affairs( called Budget Estimate or BE) was INR 5020 crore in 2022-23, but this faced a very severe cut to INR 2612 crore when the Revised Estimate (RE) for this year was prepared, a very big cut indeed. In 2023-24 INR 3097 crore has been allocated, which is not only much less than the BE of the previous year, but in fact is even much less than the actual expenditure even of 2021-22, which was placed at INR 4323 crore.
The Umbrella Program for Development of Minorities has been listed by the government as one of the ‘Core of the Core Schemes’, testifying to the importance of this program. However this has not spared this program from being cut heavily. INR 1810 was allocated in the BE for this in 2022-23, but at the time of preparing RE for this program, this was cut by over two-thirds to just INR 530 crore, making a mockery of the original allocation. Imposing such a heavy cut without any extensive parliamentary or public consultation in a ‘core of the core’ scheme raises serious questions about budgetary ethics and transparency.
What are supposed to be obvious priorities such as education and skill development have also not been spared at the time of making cuts. In the context of central sector schemes, the allocation for ‘education empowerment’ of minorities was cut from INR 2515 crore to INR 1584 crore during 2022-23 (change from BE to RR) . The allocation for 2023-24 for this is INR is 1689 crore which is less than even the actual expenditure for 2021-22, placed at INR 2249 crore.
The allocation for ‘Skill Development and Livelihoods’ of minorities faced a cut from INR 491 crore in the BE of 2022-23 to RE of INR 330 crore. This has been further cut to an alarming extent in 2023-24 to INR 64 crore. This is less than one one-seventh of the actual expenditure of INR 499 crore in 2021-22 (and here we are not even including the inflationary aspects).
In the context of ‘Special Programs of Minorities’, there was a cut from BE of INR 53 crore to INR 32 crore in 2022-23. This has been cut further to INR 26 crore in 2023-24.
The only saving grace in 2023-24 appears to be the allocation of INR 540 crore for PM-Virasat ka Samvardhan (PM Vikas). It will be interesting to see how this fund is spent. However this cannot make up for the big cuts in crucial issues like education and skill development.
Clearly various cuts in matters of critical importance for minorities are highly regrettable and the government should already start thinking in terms of upward revision of these allocations.
Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include When the Two Streams Met, Man over Machine—A Path to Peace and A Day in 2071.