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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 15 New Delhi April 2, 2016

Union Budget 2016-17: Will the Shortage of Funds Persist for Priority Schemes of Weaker Sections?

Monday 4 April 2016, by Bharat Dogra

While reporting on the lack of proper implemen-tation of important government schemes and programmes for weaker sections, it is not always possible to find out whether this is due to administrative problems or corruption or overall shortage of Budget funds. However, whatever may be the role of the first two factors at various places, at least this much is clear that as long as adequate funds have not been provided for meeting basic needs and the related livelihood support, the weaker sections will not get the badly needed help and support. This is why it is so important to monitor carefully the allocations in the Union Budget and State budgets from the point of view of whether adequate allocations have been made for various schemes and programmes which are of special importance and relevance from the point of view of the weaker sections.

Of course the full picture regarding the availability of adequate funds for such programmes and schemes will be revealed only by a combined appraisal of Central and State allocations but keeping in view the importance of Central contributions for several of these programmes and schemes (even after the higher allocations to States on the basis of the recommendations of the 14th Finance Commission) a significant indicator can nevertheless be obtained by examining the allocations made in the Union Budget.

While the Finance Minister took care to repeatedly confirm the commitment of his government to the needs of weaker sections, particularly farmers, while presenting the Union Budget for 2016-17, this expression is not backed by adequate allocations. What appears at first glance as a significant increase in the allocation for the Department for Agriculture, Cooperation and Farmers’ Welfare is in fact the result to a substantial extent of merely an accounting change as certain allocations earlier attributed to the Finance Ministry have not been listed under the Ministry of Agriculture. An apparent increase of as much as Rs 15,000 crores is related to just this accounting factor. When the impact of this accounting factor is removed then the increase in the allocation for the Department for Agriculture is found in relative terms to be quite a modest one.

Keeping in view the fact that as many as almost 300 districts are affected by drought conditions a very significant increase in the allocation for the NREGA was expected but actually there has been only a very marginal increase. No announcement has been made for any significant allocation for separate drought relief works either. What is shocking is that in a year of serious drought the budget for the National Rural Drinking Water Programme has remained at a relatively low level—the allocation in 2016-17 is Rs 5000 crores compared to the Revised Estimate for the previous year of Rs 4373 crores and the actual expenditure of Rs 9190 crores in 2014-15.

In various relevant programmes there may be a few increases here and there while there may be a few declines elsewhere, particularly in real terms after providing for the impact of inflation. All these taken together do not amount to any significant gains and relief to the poor.

Bharat Dogra is a free-lance journalist who has been involved with several social initiatives and movements.