Like in the last 15 years, budgetary allocation for children has remained stagnant with Union Budget 2017-18 allocating just 3.32 per cent to children. While the need is that of exponential increase, allocations for children has seen only an incremental increase with Rs 71,305.35 crore for children from Rs 65,758.45 crore in 2016-17 budget but the percentage has been identical to that of 2016-17.
The recently released National Plan of Action for Children (NPAC) has chalked out targets for children for the next five years and states: "It is recommended that at least 5 per cent of the Union Budget must be spent on schemes and programmes directly related to children". This budget does not even meet the conservative recommendation stated in NPAC.
The increase has been largely in four children related schemes: Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan-SSA (from 22,500 crore to Rs 23,500 crore), Midday meal scheme-MDM (Rs 9,700 crore to Rs 10,000 crore), ICDS (Rs 14,000 crore to Rs 15,245 crore, an increase of Rs 1245 crore) and increase of Rs 339 crore (from Rs 2114.99 crore in 2016-17 to Rs 2454.42 crore) in the NRHM (National Rural Health Mission) flexible pool.
The increase of Rs 1245 crore underthe ICDS (Integrated Child Development Scheme) catering to care, nutrition and education of 13.9 crore children under the age of six years, is not as significant as it seems. This year, when the NPAC visions change for children for the next five years, our investment in foundational years of childhood remains the same as it was five years ago, i.e., in 2012-13.
In absolute terms, the allocation was Rs 15,765 crore (2012-13) as against the Rs 15,245 crore this year. Within this allocation, Rs 500 crore is allocated for the Mahila Shakti centres. At present, the ICDS reaches only to 50 per cent of these children under the age of six and in no way this increase is enough to ensure a universal coverage, let alone the vision of Anganwadi-cum-creches becoming a reality.
Incentives for girls' education that saw a decrease in recent years have seen some improvement with an increase of Rs 275 crore in incentive for secondary education.
While the government in this budget has clearly demonstrated a focus on development of marginalised communities by increasing the allocation by 35 per cent, it is disheartening to see a decrease in budget by 35 per cent for measures which ensure equity and inclusion of SC/OBC children by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment. The budget allocated towards pre- and post-matric fellowships, hostels has decreased from Rs 985.5 crore to Rs 638.93 crore. The pre-matric scholarship for SCs, for instance, has been reduced drastically from Rs 459 crore to Rs 45 crore. The allocation by Ministry of Tribal Affairs on umbrella scheme for education of ST children has also marginally decreased.
Meeting RTE targets still miles away
We are still struggling to meet the RTE (Right to Education) targets and fulfil huge gaps in areas like teachers' vacancy, infrastructure and quality learning. The mere increase in the allocation of budget in SSA (Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan) by Rs 1,305 crore will be distributed among 1080757 elementary schools in India.
The scheme for children's protection saw a revival in the revised estimate stage last year (from Rs 397 to Rs 597 crore) and has seen further increase of Rs 50 crore in the 2017-18 budget at Rs 648 crore.
Hopes for an early revival of the National Nutrition Mission, which has been in the pipeline for over two years, have also resurfaced, with an allocation of Rs 1,100 crore as against Rs 360 crore which was largely unutilised in 2015-16.
[The writer is the Director, Policy and Advocacy, Child Rights and You. She is based in New Delhi and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org]