The budget for 2022-23 is a reiteration of the government’s tilt towards business and big business. It gives a strong impetus to the private sector and neglects the public and social sectors.
The state of agriculture is deteriorating, with its gross value added in 2021-22 falling to 18.8% from 20.2% in 2020-21. For the proper functioning of the rural economy and to ensure food security, it is necessary to invest in agriculture. However, no measures have been announced to deal with the agrarian crisis. Allocation for agriculture fell to Rs 3,70,303 crore from Rs 4,74,750.47 crore (revised estimate of 2021-22). The amount reserved for the purchase of paddy and wheat has decreased by more than Rs 10,000 crore from the previous year. The demands of the peasant movement have not been met and the Minister of Finance has said nothing about a legal guarantee to the MSP. The share of rural development fell to 5.23% against 5.59% in the budget.
The MGNREGS has protected millions of people from destitution during the pandemic, with the demand for work peaking in June 2021 at 4.59 crores. The situation has since improved somewhat, but the unemployment figures remain staggering. Cutting the MGNREGS allowance is therefore not only bad economics, it is also bad policy.
Oxfam International’s recent report on inequality highlighted the widening gap between rich and poor in the country. He noted that “the number of Indian billionaires has risen from 102 in 2020 to 142 in 2021, the worst year yet for India during the pandemic.” The report proposed some adjustments to India’s tax policies to correct the situation. “A 4% wealth tax on India’s 98 wealthiest families can sustain the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare for more than two years, the country’s midday meal program for 17 years or the Samagra Siksha Abhiyan for six years,” he pointed out. Unfortunately, the government is so careful not to hurt the wealthy capitalists in the least that these measures cannot be taken, let alone a far-reaching redistribution of wealth.
India’s public health infrastructure imploded during the pandemic and exposed the pitfalls of overreliance on private health services. But the government refuses to learn the lessons. Last year, health was designated as one of the six pillars of the budget. But this year, the overall budget for Health and Family Welfare has increased by only 0.96% and the research budget by 3.9%. The Covid vaccination budget has been cut by 87%, indicating the government’s belief that we are out of the pandemic – that is far from the truth.
The country has fallen on all social indices, including hunger and nutrition, over the past eight years. Instead of addressing this problem, the school lunch allowance has been reduced by 11%. This reduction is striking given the findings of the Annual State of Education Report (ASER) that children aged 6 to 14 currently not enrolled in school have fallen from 2.5% in 2018 to 4, 6% in 2021. The most affected by the pandemic were casual and agricultural workers – mainly Dalits and members of other marginalized communities. They received no relief in this budget.
The government intends to invite foreign universities to open campuses in the country. The fee structure of these universities will most likely benefit wealthy Dalits and further hurt Dalits and other marginalized communities. There is no increase in allowances for marginalized communities. The Ministries of Social Justice and Empowerment, Women and Child Development and Minority Affairs will have to make do with meager allocations.
While the country is reeling from poverty, inequality, unemployment and disease, the government wants us to believe that “capex” will bring growth. The higher amount of capital expenditure is largely due to Air India’s debt payment and defense spending. The Air India case is a classic example of “nationalized losses and privatized profits”. The Modi government failed to create the promised two million jobs, but the FM promised an additional 60 million jobs. The government has betrayed all sections of society.
The writer is Secretary General, CPI