The Budget for 2018-19 has been, predictably, lauded by mainstream media, captains of industry and sarkari hangers-on as pro-farmer, pro-peoples’ health, pro-education, historic and so on. Talking heads on TV channels and ‘expert’ analysts gush at the way the govt. has started addressing various crises in the economy. The depth of their collective blindness is only matched by the cravenness of their praise.
But the funny thing is this: Mr.Modi and his colleagues are past masters at creating illusions and it is only they, and the sycophantic media and sarkari apologists, that are falling for these tricks. For the vast majority of people in India, the reality is harsh and unrelenting, far from the la-la land in which Mr.Modi and his RSS colleagues seem to be living in. It is tragic that India is now being run by this cohort of illusionists, jugglers and tricksters.
Tragic, because grand declarations and dodgy data cannot ever solve the lethal problems that are haunting Indians. Take a look at some of the key problems in the country and how the Budget deals with them in its illusionist manner.
Farm Prices: Last year it was estimated that farmers lost over Rs.35,000 crore on their farm produce for the kharif season when comparing the prices they got with the Minimum Support Prices declared by the govt. If we compare the prices to the target of cost+50%, the collective loss balloons to a jaw dropping Rs.2 lakh crore. Over 12,000 farmers committed suicide while an estimated 52% farmers are in debt all because of these unviable prices. But the Modi govt., in this Budget has nonchalantly claimed that it is already giving cost+50% through its MSPs. How can this be? Here’s the trick: they are taking the cost as not full, comprehensive cost (called C2 by the govt.’s committee on agricultural costs and prices) but only a fraction of that (called A2) with family labour cost added. This comes to about 40% less than the actual cost because important components like interest and rent are excluded. So, increasing this depleted cost by 50% only brings it back to existing levels. As the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) has pointed out, all this skullduggery means that govt.’s announcement in the Budget that it has already implemented cost+50% formula are fraudulent.
Health: One of the grandest announcements in this Budget was that of the National Health Protection Scheme (NHPS) which was dubbed immediately as Modicare by the fawning media. It aims to bring in 10 crore households under health coverage. The scheme is only the latest avatar of what used to be the Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana (RSBY), changed to Rashtriya Swasthya Suraksha Yojana (RSSY) in 2016, and to National Health Protection Scheme in 2017. Last year it had an allocation of Rs.1000 crore but only Rs.471 crore were spent. This year, allocation has been increased to Rs.2000 crore. How this money can possibly provide health coverage up to Rs.5 lakh for 10 crore households is beyond comprehension. In its previous avatars, the scheme was criticized for its increasing out of pocket expenses and exclusion of the poor. In all probability, private insurance companies will be roped in and they will make windfall profits out of the scheme, getting hefty premia amounts directly from the govt. But all this is in the future. As of now, this open trickery is being roundly applauded by all. Meanwhile the National Health Mission allocation has been cut by about 2%, from Rs.30,802 crore to Rs.30,130 crore.
Dalits and Adivasis: Despite all claims by the Modi govt. of standing strongly in support of dalit and adivasi rights, when it comes to money, they get cold feet. According to an analysis done by the Delhi Solidarity Group, allocation for the Schedule Caste Sub-Plan (SCP) this year is Rs.56,619 crore, just 2.32% of total allocations. It should have been at least 16.6%. So dalit communities are deprived of at least Rs. 3,48,789 crore. Similarly, allocation for adivasis under Tribal Sub-Plan (TSP) this year is Rs. 39,135 crore, which is just 1.6% of total allocations. It should have been at least 8.6%. So, adivasi communities were deprived of at least Rs. 1,70,896 crore.
School Education: One of the most serious issues in Indian education is the high drop out rate as students transit from primary to senior secondary levels. It is estimated that this stands at a phenomenal 43%. In other words, two out of five children enrolled in the first standard are out of school by the time they reach standard 10. Surely, the Modi govt. is not unaware of this gaping deficit in the system? But, tragically, it seems that they are unconcerned. Allocation for the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (elementary education) was Rs.26,608 crore in 2013-14, the last year before Mr.Modi took over, then it declined for two years, marginally increased for the next two and now stands at Rs.26,129 crore in this year’s Budget, still less than what it was five years ago. For the Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan for secondary education (where most drop outs are occurring) allocation this year is a measly Rs.4213 crore according to CRY. This is highly inadequate for ensuring universal access at secondary levels. Yet the Modi sarkar is blithely carrying on, more worried about injecting communal propaganda in school kids’ minds than controlling the drop out rate.
Elderly, disabled, widows: Among the vast impoverished sections of Indian society, these three segments – elderly, disabled and widows – represent those most disadvantaged and living in most precarious conditions. India has virtually non-existent social security nets for such people who are left to slowly reach their ends in the direst circumstances. And, their numbers are not small – just the elderly number some 10 crore, of which one sixth live on their own, according to Pension Parishad. Presently, the govt. is giving a humiliating amount of just Rs.200 per month for elderly (60-79 years), Rs.500 for those above 79 years, Rs. 300 per month for widows (40-60 years) and disabled (18-79 years). These amounts have not been raised since 2007. Coverage is also minimal and irregular – just one in five of the elderly gets a pension. Referring to senior citizens, Mr.Jaitley declared in his Budget speech that govt. want to “care for those who care for us”. But he had nothing to spare for those who need this care. Allocation for these sections were raised from Rs.9550 to Rs.9975 cr a hike of 5% that will not be sufficient to compensate for inflation. So no hopes of pension raises – yet the govt. continues to maintain the illusion of caring!