1 Feb 2017, 6 PM : For last 15 years, Budgets for Children have 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 71305.35 crores for children from Rs. 65758.45 crores in 2016-17 budget.

Recently released National Plan of Action for Children (NPAC)

chalks out targets for children for 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 22500 crore to 23500 crore), Midday meal scheme-MDM (9700 crore to 10000 crore), Integrated Child Development Scheme – ICDS (Rs. 14000 crore to 15245 crore, an increase of 1245 crore) and increase of 339 crores (from 2114.99 crore in 2016-17 to 2454.42 crore) in National Rural Health Mission flexible pool.

The increase of 1245 crore under ICDS catering to care, nutrition and education of 13.9 crore children under the age of 6 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 15765 crore (2012-13) as against the 15245 crore this year. Within this allocation, 500 crore is allocated for Mahila Shakti Centres. At present, ICDS reaches only to 50 per cent of these children under age of six and in no way this increase is enough to ensure 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 275 crore in incentive for secondary education.

While the government, in this budget has clearly demonstrated focus on development of marginalized 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 by the towards pre and post matric fellowships, hostels has decreased from 985.5 crore to 638.93 crore. The pre-matricscholarship for SC children for instance has been reduced drastically from 459 crore to 45 crore. Also, the allocation by Ministry of Tribal Affairs on umbrella scheme for education of ST children has marginally decreased.

We are still struggling to meet the Right To Education targets and fulfil huge gaps in areas like teacher vacancy, infrastructure and quality learning. The mere increase in the allocation of budget in SSA (Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan) by 1305 crore will be distributed among 1080757 elementary schools in India.

The scheme for Child Protection saw a revival in the revised estimate stage last year (from 397 to 597 crore) and has seen further increase of 50 crore in the 2017-18 budget at 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 1100 crore as against 360 crore which was largely unutilized in 2015-16.

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