Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Kids get a raw deal in budgets

Himanshi Dhawan
[ 25 Feb, 2007 2252hrs ISTTIMES NEWS NETWORK ]

NEW DELHI: They form one-third of the population but their share in the Union budget is a mere 4.86%. Children under 18 years have become a blind spot for a nation rushing towards higher GDP growth. A quick glance of the social sector indices reveals that despite rapid growth in GDP and per capita income, children's health and education has not received the desired attention which reflects in the high levels of foeticide, malnutrition, illiteracy and child labour rampant across the country.

Significantly, while Central funding for children has increased marginally, the overall public expenditure remains stagnant because the states' share in these sectors has declined. About 80% of Indian children continue to be anaemic, 47% are malnourished, the infant mortality ratio has remained at 67 per 1,000 while it is 46 in Bangladesh, and the all-India child sex ratio is 927 girls for 1,000 boys which puts the country right at the bottom of the chart internationally, even below countries like Nigeria (965) and Pakistan (958).

If these statistics paint a grim picture it is because despite a GDP jump from 3.6% in 1951-1979 to 9% in 2006, proportionate spending on children has increased from a paltry 2.11% in 2001-2002 to 4.86%. According to reports compiled by the women and child development ministry, of the total spending on children a large bulk (70.14%) is spent on education, leaving very little for health, development and protection issues. In the 2006-2007 budget, child development got 17.72% share while health schemes got 11.43%. The budget allocation for child protection, recently brought into focus after the Nithari serial killings, is a paltry 0.70%.

An even more disturbing trend is the decline in states' share of spending on children in the past few years. A UNICEF study has reported that with a few exceptions, share in education has dropped from an aggregate 17.4% in 2001-2002 to 13.4% in 2005-2006.

Spending in Bihar came down from 23.7% in 2001-02 to 17.9% in 2005-06 while expenditure on education in Madhya Pradesh has halved from 16.3% to 8.7% in the same period. Healthcare has been given an even lower budget. Spending by states on an average has dropped from 4.4% in 2001-2002 to 3.8% in 2005-2006 with even progressive states like Delhi, Punjab, Kerala and Tamil Nadu reducing funds.

Clearly, it not the lack of resources. A study on the social sector undertaken by former Planning Commission member N C Saxena shows India with a per capita income of $2,670 has an infant mortality rate (IMR) of 67 while its human development index (HDI) is 0.595.

Vietnam, where the average per capita income is much lower at $2,300, has a lower IMR than India at 30 and HDI that is 0.691. Other developing countries too appear to have recognised the significance of public spending. Bangladesh spends 1.6% of its GDP on health and 2.5% on education while China spends 2% on health. Developed countries like US and Japan spend over 6% on health with Malaysia spending 6% on education.

On the eve of the Union budget, observers argue that there is a strong case for India to raise public spending and place social services on its priority areas before it is too late.

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