Brief shrift to social sector

The coronavirus-ravaged 2020 exposed the infirmities in the health sector and the lockdown dealt a disproportionate blow to the middle and low income sections — marked by the marches of suffering migrant labourers, crippled small businesses and stark vulnerabilities of the salaried classes as they found themselves jobless or with reduced wages. Many were forced to scrape the bottom of their savings. An income tax relief for this segment in the Union Budget-2021 would have provided a cushion to absorb inflation. At the same time, the liquidity so facilitated would have helped spur the recovery of the battered economy by enhancing their spending power.

Then, in a worrisome trend fraught with long-term repercussions, the efforts of the poor to progress got a beating. They were pushed farther to the socio-economic fringes as the gaping digital divide meant an exclusion of their kids from online education. With the Ministry of Education’s allocation of a mere Rs 93,224 crore as against its projected need of

Rs 1,03,673.66 crore, things for their uplift don’t look rosy. Reduced funds for the school midday meal scheme (Rs 11,500 crore compared to last year’s revised estimates of Rs 12,900 crore) has nutrition-related health implications and will reflect poorly on the human development index.

Additionally, as millions of lockdown-hit people hobbled back to normalcy during the graded unlocking in the latter part of last year, the absence of a social security net was acutely felt. Though the government had announced relief to support those impacted by the unprecedented pandemic, it was a one-time measure. A booster dose to strengthen the social sector was expected in the Budget. But sadly, it has received short shrift as the overall allocations to the sector leave much to be desired. The sole reason for cheer in the beleaguered segment flows from the government’s focus on a 100 per cent coverage of drinking water supply — there is a 300 per cent hike in its allocation. Given the leakage during the implementation phases of most well-intentioned plans, it remains to be seen if the ambitious target is met this time.

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