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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 8, New Delhi, February 6, 2021

A Budget That Does Not Meet the Real Needs of Economy and People | Bharat Dogra

Saturday 6 February 2021, by Bharat Dogra

When a budget is presented at a time when the economy is going through a very serious crisis people have very high expectations and these were raised further by the remarks made by the Finance Minister regarding the great importance of this year’s budget a few days before the actual presentation of the budget. However the budget has failed to fulfill the hopes of people, particularly the sections facing the worst difficulties in this crisis relating to decline of income and livelihoods.

A big increase in the allocation of the rural employment guarantee scheme (MGNREGA )was needed by the most vulnerable and needy sections, particularly as so many migrant workers had to go back to villages and so many more additional villagers have been looking for work under this scheme. So more people are looking for work under this scheme and they are looking for work lasting for more days. Hence clearly there was need for a big increase in MGNREGA budget but actually compared to the Revised Estimate for the previous year there is a decline and compared to the Budget Estimate of the previous year there is a relatively small increase which cannot be called adequate. As for the expected and demanded extension of the concept of this scheme to urban areas in the form of a new scheme there was no mention of this in the budget speech.

A very big increase in the budget of the Health Ministry was expected in the new situation, but in fact there is only a marginal increase plus the additional allocation for Covid vaccine. A new scheme has also been announced and the budget for this is to be found over the next six years. On the whole the allocation of health sector is not adequate at all, but in the budget speech the impression of a big increase was created by adding sanitation, water and other allocations although these are generally considered separately.

An even bigger disappointment is that the allocation for education has declined. Everyone knows how education suffered in Covid times and how great the need is to increase allocation for school education in particular. Hence the decline in allocation has been really shocking.

Yet another shocker is the lack of any big boost for agriculture, as keeping in view the farmers’ movement in particular a big increase in allocation for agriculture was expected.

The expectations of a significant increase in pensions for elderly persons, widows and disability affected persons under the National Social Assistance Program have also not been fulfilled.

The allocations for the welfare of women and children have also been very disappointing as in some important contexts of welfare, empowerment and safety there is a decline and not an increase.

At the same time budget announcements relating to disinvestment have raised a lot of concerns and worries. In addition the budget announcements regarding a very big increase in foreign investment in insurance sector and the future of the Life Insurance Corporation of India are deeply troubling.

(The writer is a journalist who has been close to several social movements)

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