Union Finance Minister Mr. P Chidrambaram has increased allocations to
the social sector in his budget proposals for 2005-06 presented to
Parliament on Monday, February 28, 2005. This is in sync with the
National Common Minimum Programme of the Government of Prime Minister
Dr.Manmohan Singh, and must be welcomed by all those who understand the
linkages between the social sector, development, population and
There are other positive signals – the allocation for the Integrated
Child Development Scheme [ICDS] has taken what the Ministry of Finance
called a “quantum jump” from Rs.1,623 crore in 2004-05 to Rs.3,142 in
the budget proposals for 2005-06. The Finance Minister has ear marked
Rs.100 crores for “Rural Knowledge Centres” as part of “Mission 2007”
to set up a Knowledge Centre in every village by the 60th anniversary
of Independence Day. And the Mid-Day Meal Scheme has increased
allocations as well, from Rs.1,675 crore in 2004-05 to Rs.3,010 crore
in the new proposals.
Each of these measures carries the capacity to bring about change
where it is required most, and has a direct bearing on health and
population issues. The allocations in themselves may not be enough but
they set a tone and direction that future governments can hardly ignore.
To that end, the finance minister deserves to be complimented. The
budget is not an annual mela for business or industry. It is
essentially an opportunity when the government takes stock and makes
course corrections so that it reaches out to the most needy even as it
seeks to power the economy.
It is therefore unfortunate that in the endless “analysis” on the
budget, the social sector is rarely, if ever, spoken about. This year,
too, we find that budget “talk” in the immediate aftermath is limited
to a narrow, industry or corporate-specific outlook which misses the
long awaited increase in allocations.
After all, how can India become an economic giant and how can all the
goods and services be bought by its people if the vast majority do not
have access to an adequate standard of living and basic health and
In allocations to the health sector, India has ranked rather poorly
with a public allocation of 0.9% of GDP for 2001, amongst the lowest in
the world, according to the United Nations Human Development Report
2004. The report names only four countries with a lower public
allocation for health: Indonesia, Myanmar, Sudan and Nigeria. It must
be understood that India can never become the super power it seeks to
be while sitting so low down on the socio economic issues.
While increased allocations are the key first step, this is not enough.
We must now look forward to better governance so that every Rupee
reaches the intended beneficiaries if we are to bring about change in
Money Is Good, But We Need Ideas
Prof. Ashish Bose, Population Expert & Member of Advisory Council, POPULATION FIRST
The health budget has been increased substantially. I welcome that. The
Prime Minister has also announced that there will be a Rural Health
Mission. I understand that on World Health Day, the PM is going to
formally announce the mission.
However, it is my view that the people in the government are quite lost
about what exactly is to be done and how to operationalise it.
‘Mission’ is a military term, and it implies a command and control
structure, and specific, fixed time bound goals.
Unfortunately, the rural health infrastructure has collapsed in India,
and no where in India is the functioning of the Community Health
Centre, the Primary Health Centre and the Sub Centres really fully
functional. By fully functional, I mean when the doctor is there, the
nurse should be present; and vice versa; when the jeep is present,
there should be budget for fuel.
So what we have is mismanagement of the health programme by
bureaucrats. I don’t think the bureaucracy is capable of running the
Health mission. So organisations like Population First, Population
Foundation of India, the Chambers of commerce and the corporate sector
have a great role to play.
The Health Mission calls for strategic thinking. The Population
commission of 117 members ought to be wound up – it is the most foolish
way of managing anything. We should get rid of these obsolete methods
for managing the health of one billion people, and we have no models to
So allocations are good but it is not a question of money. More than
money, you need ideas and an operational strategy and the district
level. We need a people oriented programme.
Much Of Stated Good Intentions, Not Enough Operational Mechanics
NISHIT KUMAR, Director General, I-CONGO [Confederation of Indian NGOs]
I like the overall social feel of the budget but a lot of the social
feel is offset because it desn’t say how it’ll work. Just good
The second thing is that the tax structure simply takes out the value
of 80G benefits under which 50% tax benefit goes social giving. By
enhancing exemptions on savings to one lakh and changing tax slabs, a
lot of people who used to give for social causes might stop giving to
the Non Government Organisations.
So on one hand there is this overall social feel, and also a
recognition of NGOs in many parts, but 80G will impact NGOs heavily.
This should have been addressed.
Last year, the Finance Minister spoke of food coupons. This year, he
has not even referred to this. So last year’s good intentions have been
thrown out of the window, and how do we know this year’s good
intentions will not end up similarly the next year.
The exemptions for disabled have been retained but these should have
been raised given the rising medical costs. If you really want a
socially conscious budget, these things don’t cost the government much.
We Must Reach Out During Pregnancy
Dr.Duru Shah, President-elect, FOGSI [Federation of Obstetric & Gynaecological Societies of India]
I’m very happy to know that allocations for health have increased and
the only question is that this be used in the right direction. How much
really trickles down to the women is the key question.
If more funds are allocated to health, I think it is time we cover pregnancy under insurance schemes.
Women need their health to be looked after during pregnancy. Maternal
mortality and morbidity is high because of poor nutrition and lack of
antenatal care. The BJP government had proposed a scheme under which
FOGSI members would keep the 9th of every month reserved for free
medical advice and attention to pregnant women to encourage them to
seek medical help during pregnancy. Somehow, we must reach medical
services to the pregnant women if we have to make a difference.
The allocations this time are definitely better than they were earlier
but we also have to look at the allocations against the requirement.
For an example, we have a higher HIV population as compared to other
countries but the funds we have for HIV/AIDS are far lower.
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