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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 13 New Delhi March 14, 2020

Growing Concerns over Adequacy of Funds for Welfare Schemes

Sunday 15 March 2020, by Bharat Dogra

There is increasing concern regarding the actual availability of adequate funds for several important welfare schemes which impact the lives of tens of millions of people in the country. There are several reasons for this.

Firstly, in recent times the Revised Estimates for several important schemes have been diverging too much from the Budget Estimates, more than in normal times. To give just one example, the Budget Estimate for the government’s top priority programme—the urban component of the Swachh Bharat Mission—was Rs 2650 crore while the Revised Estimate was less than half, just Rs 1300 crore in 2019-20.

Secondly, the actual spending statistics for the first 8 months of the Financial Year 2019-20 reveal very low levels of utilisation in the case of several important Ministries and Depart-ments handling very important welfare schemes for the vulnerable sections. For example, the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare spent just 49 per cent of the annual budget while the Ministry of Minority Affairs spent just 29 per cent. This is very low spending for eight months out of the total Budget for 12 months.

Thirdly, the actual release of funds to some states has been very low in the case of some important schemes. For example, according to the Accountability Initiative in the case of the top priority scheme of Poshan Abhiyan (earlier known as the National Nutrition Mission), in Financial Year 2019-20 there was no release of Union Government funds during the first eight months till November 30, 2019 to 15 States, including Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal.

Fourthly, there is an overall funds squeeze and hence the practice of making up any glaring shortfall in the last few weeks may not be seen this time.

Fifthly, the allocation of some important schemes in the new Union Budget 2020-21 is low when compared to the needs of these schemes.

Last but not the least, the growing uncertainty of transfer of Central funds to States caused by some recent factors including difficulties in releasing GST compensation, the increasing share of cesses in Central revenue which are not shared with States, the absence of the Planning Commission now to sort out several issues and maintain continuity, the penalties imposed on some economically weaker States for lower performance (as in the case of health allocations) etc.

All these issues should be sorted out on the basis of urgency so that the schemes affecting the welfare of tens of millions of people can be implemented properly.

The author contributes on development and environment issues. His latest book is Protecting Earth for Children.

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