Budget 2011-12 and Education

Mar 9th 2011, Jayati Ghosh
The UPA government has insisted from the very start that it would lay a lot of emphasis on education. Many of the initiatives undertaken and measures implemented during UPA-I were precisely focussed around enhancing the education of the people and the knowledge capacity of the country, even though it could be argued that the results have not been commensurate with expectation. But during UPA-II, somehow it seems that the central government has lost the plot. Whether it be the lacklustre approach to the Right to Education Act, which has finally been passed even though not yet properly notified, or the haphazard and increasingly problematic interventions in higher education, the necessary drive and determination seem to be missing.

This is only too evident in Budget 2011-12, which really does not do enough towards ensuring the financial resources for the commitments already made by the Centre. In his Budget Speech, the Finance Minister made much of the substantial increase in plan allocation for social services, and indeed, at Rs 26,000 crore it does seem significant, given the paltry nature of increases in this area in the past. But non-plan revenue expenditure on social sectors is actually slated to be cut by nearly Rs 6,000 crore, so the increase is not as much has been trumpeted.

Within this, education gets only Rs 11,300 crore and the bulk of this goes to school education and literacy (Rs 8307 crore). The renewed focus on literacy campaigns, with the provision of increased funds for this purpose, is certainly to be welcomed, since this was an area that has been greatly and unjustly neglected in the recent past, even though a large proportion of our population is still functionally illiterate. But the increased allocation for school education is completely insufficient given the promise of universal elementary education that has been made a constitutional obligation by the Right to Education Act.

This suggests that the financial burden of ensuring the right to education is to be thrust on the state governments. This is quite unjustified given that a central legislation is forcing state governments to undertake additional expenditures, which may not be feasible for many poorer states where there is a large backlog of children out of school. Further, since many state governments are already facing fiscal crises because of the impact of the crisis in the previous year, they will find it difficult to raise the required resources.

In fact, the increase in total support from the Centre to state and UT plans is less than Rs 6500 crore, which is completely inadequate for the most obvious needs of health, education, housing and other infrastructure. In fact, this increase of around 7.5 per cent over the previous year's spending will barely keep pace with inflation and is well below the projected increase in GDP.

In higher education, the central government has promised to open 30 new universities and improve facilities for existing universities. But the budgetary allocation has gone up by only around Rs 3000 crore, which is barely enough to set up one university that provides facilities that would be considered essential to meet the best international standards. So it is not really clear what the government is proposing for education, if the allocations are still so meagre.


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