SOCIAL SECTOR With the high burden of expectation, the Finance Minister had his task cut out to deliver a budget to demonstrate the Government's intent to bring the flagging economy back on track through significant investments in core sectors without compromising on the welfare expenditures. In spite of time constraints, he has used this opportunity to put forward the strategic intent of the Government, with a focus on enhancing the efficacy of expenditure and encouraging participation of the private sector in infrastructure development. The budget indicates continued commitments to the initiatives of the earlier government and launches certain new interventions, focusing on women safety and skill development. Providing a token initial allocation of Rs 100 crore for some of the new schemes is a pragmatic approach as implementation of most of these schemes realistically would only happen in next FY. A theme articulated consistently by the new Government has been convergence and bringing efficiency in delivery. There was an expectation that budget would reflect this theme through a logical consolidation of schemes and consequent outlays. Where the budget fell short was to articulate "how" the theme of convergence would be taken forward, with a matching rationalization of outlays, and to provide concrete steps to demonstrate the new government's commitment to focus on outcomes rather than outlays. Hopefully, this issue may be addressed in coming days and the strategic intent shown will be followed up by tangible actions. Education * Policy announcement/direction * Fund Allocation * Overall The allocation for school education is up by nearly 10 per cent from the interim 2014-15 budget, while that for higher education is 13 per cent up. Quality, affordability and efficiency are the major focus of the budget with regards to the education sector. The budget has also focused on promoting girls education, with a new programme - "Beti Padhao, Beti Badhao". Use of ICT by setting up virtual classrooms and online courses is also a welcome measure. Like all the new schemes announced by Finance Minister, these also have the token allocation of Rs 100 crores which is expected to be increased based on the detail feasibility and resource requirement analysis. Elementary Education K There is a 15 per cent increase in allocation for Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) over last year. The new "Teachers Training Programme" for preparing teaching staff of global standards, announced with an initial allocation of Rs 500 crores and Rs 30 crores for School Assessment Programme is a welcome measure focusing on "learning outcomes" and improving quality. Secondary and Higher Education J The Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA) flagship programme for secondary education has 26 per cent higher allocation. The trend of higher allocation is in line with the near universal enrollment at primary level achieved through SSA. 100% retention of students in secondary and higher secondary level is the next big challenge being addressed by this higher allocation. The significant increase in allocation for under the Rashtriya Uchcha Shiksha Abhiyan (RUSA) at Rs 2,200 crores from Rs 400 crores in 2013-14 is another welcome measure in this budget. The budget includes an allocation of Rs 500 crores for setting up five new IIMs and IITs, and Rs 500 Crores for setting up of four AIIMS like institute. These initial allocations are expected to be reinforced by higher allocations in the coming years. * Policy announcement/direction * Fund Allocation * Overall Technical Education and Skill Development The Economic Survey and the recent announcements from the new Government indicated the focus on capitalising the country's demographic dividend. It was expected that the budget would provide a stimulus for technical education and skill development initiatives. In December 2013, NSQF was notified for mobility between vocational training and education with a plan to implement it in the next three years. However, the budget is silent on the roadmap for this transition. While the budget promises transformation of VET by way of developing 1,896 ITIs into Center of Excellence, there is a marginal increase in allocation to higher technical education. On the policy front, an amendment to the Apprenticeship Act, 1961 is expected to bring thrust in the MSME sector skilling. The budget has no allocation earmarked for the proposed Skills Ministry and allocation on existing skill initiatives still remains dispersed with different Ministries with additional initiatives announced under Rurban Missions and proposed National multi skill programme "Skill India". No budget allocation has been earmarked for the Skill India programme. While the budget lays out the policy direction and emphasizes convergence, it is silent on the underlying changes that would be required for this transition. We can expect the Government to announce structural reforms for the convergence initiatives in the near future. Livelihoods * Policy announcement/direction * Fund Allocation * Overall The new Government has indicated the need for reducing poverty by enabling the poor households to access gainful self-employment and skilled wage employment opportunities. The current budget focuses on strengthening & revamping the existing programs with the outlays maintained at the existing levels. * National Rural Livelihoods Mission (NRLM) NRLM or Aajeevika in mission mode is being implemented since 2011.
Considering the lower utilization of Rs 2,600 crores (62 per cent) in 2013-14, the budget allocation is kept at same level as 2013-14. As a new initiative, the provision of bank loan for women SHGs at 4 per cent has been extended to another 100 districts, taking the total number to 250 districts. * Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGREGS) K MNREGS has been the most discussed and debated scheme in the recent time. The outlays are not translating into the expected outputs (reflected by a downward trend in fund utilization along with downward trend in person days of work created), the current year's focus is on making it a development oriented programme aimed at creating tangible and meaningful assets and infrastructure. The new Government has indicated the intent to make it more productive and has marginally increased the allocation. However, the framework for the reorientation is expected to be designed in days to come. New Initiatives: A 'Start Up Village Entrepreneurship Programme' has been set up for encouraging rural youth to take up local entrepreneurship programs for which an initial sum of Rs 100 crore has been allocated. * Policy announcement/direction * Fund Allocation * Overall * Public Healthcare Providing equitable, affordable and quality healthcare to all is one of the biggest challenges facing both the developed and developing world. Historically, the public spend for healthcare has been very low for India and this year's overall budget allocation at Rs 39,238 crores is 2.19 per cent of the overall budget. The two new key initiatives announced for "Free Drug Service" and "Free Diagnosis Service" is a welcome measure and would help in bringing down the high Out of Pocket expense for the patients. However, like other new programs, the allocation and the implementation strategy for the new schemes is missing in budget announcements. * National Health Mission The outlay for National Health Mission (NHM) has been increased by 16 per cent compared to last year. This increase may not be significant considering that the allocation also covers urban health mission which was launched in 2013-14 with initial allocation of Rs 900 crores. Other Announcements: Of the four new AIIMS proposed, the ones in UP and WB were already planned under Phase 2 of PMSSY. AIIMS at AP and Maharashtra are new propositions and it is a commendable initiative to strengthen the PMSSY for delivery of tertiary care services. * Nutrition * Policy announcement/direction * Fund Allocation * Overall The budget has acknowledged the need for convergence between health and nutrition along with strengthening of systems in these sectors. While this is a step in the right direction, there is a need to ensure that this convergence is strong not only at the Central level but also at the State, District, Block and Village levels. The overall allocation to ICDS programme has 14 per cent increases over last year allocation. The launch of National Nutrition Mission is also a welcome measure in this Budget. * Policy announcement/direction * Fund Allocation * Overall * Water and Sanitation The budgetary allocations to Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation remain same as last budget at Rs 15,627 crores. Similarly the allocations to the two flagship programmes National Rural Drinking Water Programme and Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan (NBA) also remain unchanged at Rs 11,000 crores and Rs 4,260 crores respectively. The NBA had earlier set a target of 2022 to achieve Open Defecation Free India whereas the new Government has proposed to achieve total sanitation coverage by 2019. Achieving "Swachh Bharat" by 2019 will require significant financial and human resource allocation along with strengthening of the institutional framework. Hopefully, these measures would be announced in the coming days to provide the answers to "how" which this budget has not touched upon. * Policy announcement/direction * Fund Allocation * Overall Gender The Gender budget reflects a reduction (20 per cent) in the funding of 100 per cent women centric schemes from the last year. However, there is a policy shift and there is focus on gender mainstreaming through other Ministries and Departments. For instance, Ministries such as Road Transport and Highways and Home Affairs are also addressing women's safety by investing in safe public transport systems. Overall there is a marginal increase in allocation from Rs 97,134 crores in FY13-14 to Rs 98,030 crores this year. There is also intent shown to address the growing incidence of gender based violence through both preventive and rehabilitative measures. Responding to this demand, a new scheme- SAAHAS, has been introduced under the Umbrella Scheme for the Protection and Development of Women. The Nirbhaya Fund is likely to fund initiatives like One Stop Crisis Centres, women's helpline and restorative justice for rape victims under SAAHAS.
ASHOK VARMA Executive Director - Government Reforms and Infrastructure Development, PwC India Team members: Kaustabh Basu, Anjan, Ranjan, Johnny Edward, Sujata, Sana, Veeresh, Siddhartha, Jainee and Pooja