People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
March 18, 2007
Education In Budget: Deeds Fail Words
R Arun Kumar
“Come with me you can wish upon a star
You can do all the things that you've longed to
In a land full of promises and kings
All your best laid dreams are for catchin'
You can have the world to tie up on a string
Just close your eyes and imagine
If wishes were horses
All dreams and desires would ride along side”
THESE lines from a Bryan Adams song sum-up the union budget 2007-08 of the UPA government. Political will coupled with budget that forms the material basis for the fulfilment of the wishes of the government are lacking in plenty in this budget. It is all the more disappointing because this is the last-but-one full-fledged budget of this government before once again going to the people and seeking their mandate on its performance.
As the budget indicates there is a 34.2 per cent increase in the budgetary allocations for education compared to the last year’s budget. This has happened because of the consistent struggles of the academic community outside the parliament and the pressure exerted by the Left. But this is not at all sufficient. If the per cent of budgetary allocations to education to the total expenditure is calculated it is a paltry 4.75 per cent. Last year it was 4.2 per cent. This is much below the demanded 10 per cent of total allocations. A budget has to allocate resources considering the present status of a particular sector – education in this case – to transform it in the declared time. Even if we do not take into consideration the demands made by the academic community and just take the declared targets that the government intends to achieve, the budget woefully falls far short of the expectations.
Let us first look at what the government has promised to the people in its National Common Minimum Programme. “The UPA government pledges to raise public spending in education to least 6 per cent of GDP with at least half this amount being spent on primary and secondary sectors”. It has promised to do this in a ‘phased manner.’ Everybody was happy because this promise was not only fulfilling the recommendation made by Kothari Commission but also reversing the trend initiated by the NDA government. Public expenditure on education as per cent of GDP in 1999-2000 was 4.2 and in the year NDA remitted office (2004-05) it was successfully brought down to 2.74 per cent. According to the data given in the annual Economic Survey 2006-07 placed in parliament, the total expenditure of both the central and state governments as per cent of GDP is pegged at only 2.87 per cent. So the UPA government too is not doing any better.
LACK OF POLITICAL WILL
According to a calculation made by Jayati Ghosh and C P Chandrasekhar, unless the government increases its spending it cannot meet even its legal and constitutional obligations like providing mid-day meals, right to education etc. “In order to meet the legal obligations of the central government, revenue expenditure will have to increase by at least Rs 132,600 crore (2006-07), 168,739 crore (2007-08) 221,172 crore (2008-09) 247,356 crore (2009-10) and 300,657 crore (2010-11). This means that around 80 per cent of the projected increase in revenue expenditure will have to cater to meet the legal requirements of the government regarding primary schooling, leaving only 20 per cent of the increase for secondary, higher and technical education. If we assume that the entire population of children between the ages 5 to 14 years should be in school by the end of the Eleventh Plan, this creates a minimum need for physical infrastructure. Accordingly the financial requirement is Rs 23,934 crore”.
Instead of increasing the expenditure the sad part is that the government is failing to spend even the allotted money to the respective sectors in spite of pressing needs for increased spending. In the first budget of the UPA (2004-05), it was announced with much fanfare that allocations for elementary education have been increased to Rs 8004.58 crore (RE). The government according to the budget statistics spent Rs 7943.34 crore only. Even in 2005-06 the government was able to spend only Rs 11,984.11 crore while the allocated amount was Rs 12,536.33 crore. The failure to spend the allocated amount shows the lack of political will of the government.
The government has announced that it is allocating Rs 7324 crore to meet the expenses of the mid-day meal scheme. About 12 crore children enrolled at primary stage availed mid-day meal in 2006-07. If we assume that there would be no increase in the number of children availing this scheme, this would mean that each child is allocated only Rs 610.33 per year or Rs 2.03 per day (calculated for 10 months of academic calendar). If we take into consideration the government’s declaration that it would be extended to upper primary stage in 3,427 educationally backward blocks this amount would get reduced even further. If as the government itself states Rs 1.50, mentioned as the central assistance to meet the cooking cost in the above list of activities is taken away, then only 0.53 paise would be left to cover all the other stipulated activities like buying foodgrains etc. Any rational person can make out that it is humanly impossible to provide ‘meals’ with this meagre amount not to think of nutritional food. It is true that the states too are ‘contributing their resources to add value and variety to the mid-day meal.’ But even if they contribute 100 per cent matching grants the money would not be sufficient to provide nutritional food to the children.
MEAGRE OR NO ALLOCATIONS
Another scheme that was launched by the present finance minister in his first budget and which failed to get any allocations in this budget is the Kasturba Gandhi Vidyalayas. The scheme Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya (KGBV) was launched in August 2004. It aims to “ensure access to quality education for girls by setting up about 750 residential schools with boarding facilities at elementary level for girls belonging predominantly to the SC, ST, OBC and minorities, in difficult areas. These schools are proposed to be set up in Educationally Backward Blocks (EBSs), where the female literacy is below the national average and gender gap in literacy is more than the national average”. This scheme was allotted Rs 115.20 crore in the previous years budget and does not find any mention in this budget except a word saying that it is merged with the Sarva Siksha Abhiyan. Already the government is intending to convert the SSA into a 50:50 scheme between the centre and the states from its initial 75:25 sharing pattern. Now the merger of other central government schemes also into SSA will mean that the centre is washing its hands off tactfully while the states have to share this additional revenue. Media reports indicate that the parliamentary sub-committee has found out that the resources allotted to this scheme are not utilised properly. The easiest option before the government, instead of rectifying the defects, is giving the scheme a silent burial.
The finance minister in his speech has proposed a new scheme of merit-cum-means scholarships for secondary education students. The intention is to ‘arrest the drop-out ratio and encourage students to continue their education beyond class VIII.’ According to this scheme ‘each student will be given Rs 6,000 per year for study in classes IX, X, XI and XII’ and ‘100,000 scholarships may be awarded every year’. This proposal was actually mooted by the oversight committee set-up by the government to suggest ways and means for the implementation of 27 per cent reservation for the OBCs. It has suggested ‘at least one lakh scholarships of Rs 12,000 a year each for students of Classes IX-XII’ coming from the ‘SC, ST, OBC families’. Even though the finance minister did not allocate Rs 12,000 and the money allotted is nominal at least a beginning was made and this is welcome.
INSENSITIVE TO SOCIAL JUSTICE
To get an idea of the meagre allocations made for the post-matric scholarships for SC, ST OBC students we should compare them with the above-mentioned scheme. The allocation for post-matric scholarships for the SC students this year is increased to Rs 611 crore. Last year these scholarships were intended to cover 25 lakh students. If we ignore the increases in the number of students and take the same number as recipients for this year also then each student would be getting Rs 2444 per year. This is just 40.7 per cent of the money sanctioned to the students in secondary education. Does the government think that the costs of education are coming down as one is climbing up the education ladder? Or does this show that the government, except for rhetoric, is just insensitive about social justice?
The feeling that the latter might be true gets strengthened because in this budget the government has reduced the allocations for another well-intended scheme for the SC, ST and other disadvantaged sections in the society. The allocation for community polytechnics started during the year 1978-79, has come down. This scheme is mainly aimed at providing short-term skill development training to the school dropouts, minorities, women, SC/STs and other disadvantaged sections of the society to enhance their societal status by securing wage/self employment. Reducing allocations to such an important scheme thus casts doubts about the seriousness of the government to translate all its talk of social justice into reality.
This budget has also seen an increase in the allocations for higher and technical education from Rs 7116 crore to Rs 9209.5 crore. This is an increase of Rs 2093.5 crore. On the face of it this appears to be a considerable increase. But we should not forget the fact that this hike is made to increase the intake capacities of our higher education institutes by 54 per cent to enable the implementation of 27 per cent reservation for OBCs. The oversight committee constituted by the government has come up with a plan for its implementation and even suggested the necessary financial requirements. It has opined that this entire exercise requires an additional Rs 17,270.22 crore for the coming five years. The committee has also worked out a yearly projection of the additional money required and this is Rs 4278 crore (2007-08), Rs 3518.72 crore (2008-09), Rs 3121.94 crore (2009-10), Rs 3343.88 crore (2010-11) and Rs 3007.68 crore (2011-12). So this budget has to increase its allocations for higher and technical education by Rs 4278 crore, which is nearly 2,200 crore more than what was actually increased. To put it in another way the resources increased for higher education would not be sufficient to meet the needs of the increased intake even if we presume that all other needs of higher and technical education do not require an increased allocation.
CMP PROMISES IGNORED
Unfortunately, the present situation in our country does not allow us this presumption. If the quality of higher education has to be improved among many other things it essentially needs an increase in public expenditure. There are many studies including the CABE sub-committee report that have asked for increasing the government expenditure on higher education to at least 1 per cent of the 6 per cent of GDP that is supposed to be spent on education. At present this is a paltry 0.37 per cent of the GDP that is spent on education. Looking at the allocations made to higher education we can once again conclude that the government fails to match its words with deeds. It fails to keep its promise made in the CMP “nobody is denied professional education because he or she is poor.”
The government instead of striving to work towards this objective is actually moving in an opposite direction-towards privatising education. The finance minister has mentioned that the 1,396 ITIs would be upgraded by public-private partnership. Everybody would appreciate the government if it takes upon itself the task of upgradation. In the name of upgradation and public private participation, it is actually privatising ITIs. The experience of the ‘upgradation’ of the 100 ITIs mentioned in the last two years budgets points to this fact. In states like Haryana the entire academic community has protested this backdoor privatisation of the ITIs and the state government was forced to put a stop to this move. It appears that the union government is blind to this reality or is not willing to learn its lessons properly. It is more eager to satisfy the dictates of the World Bank than listen and cater to peoples’ aspirations.
The attitude of the government it appears is to open up the entire education sector to private players and this includes university education. This would pave way for allowing FDI in education, foreign education providers and honour its commitments made in WTO. When countered with arguments for increasing government expenditure it tends to hide behind the familiar refrain ‘scarcity of resources’.
This budget refuses to tax the rich and increase its resources. Instead the government decided to levy an additional 1 per cent as education cess, which of course is welcome as it brings in some additional revenue for education. According to the government itself the ‘total tax exemptions/concessions granted in the year 2004-05 stood at Rs 176073 crore out of which corporate tax exemptions alone accounted for Rs 57852 crore’. According to the Reserve Bank of India loans worth Rs 45,000 crore given to the corporate houses were written off recently terming them as ‘non-performing assets’. Besides these there are umpteen exemptions provided to the rich and wealthy in our country not to speak of the hidden subsidies given to them (like providing cheap land, power and other concessions for private education institutions). If all these sources are tapped there will be adequate resources that can be spent on the social sectors like education and health. At least 10 per cent of the total budget could be allocated to education. To do all this the government should have political will. If the UPA government is found lacking in this it is bound to face the wrath of the aam admi.