The upcoming Union Budget to be announced on 1 February would be the sixth Union budget of the NDA government. Though an interim budget, given that this is an election year, there is a high possibility that it will be a populist one. It will be interesting to see what the budget kitty holds in it for school education.
In August 2018, the Ministry of Finance had presented its Medium-Term Expenditure Framework Statement before the Parliament. The statement provides insights on the central government finances for different ministries/departments and schemes for the next two years.
The projection for the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) for 2019-20 does not look very cheerful for the education sector, especially school education. The projected budgetary allocation for Department of School Education and Literacy (DSEL) for 2019-20 is estimated to be Rs. 54,959 crore, approximately a 10 percent increase from 2018-19 (Budget Estimate).
The expenditure projection at the scheme level for the year 2019-20 shows a similar picture. Between 2018-19 and 2019-20, the school education department projected a 10 percent increase in Mid-day Meal (MDM) and a 10 percent increase in the National Education Mission (includes Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA) and Teacher Training and Sakshar Bharat). It gives the impression that the Union Budget for school education in 2019-20 is not going to be different from the earlier practice of incremental budgeting.
However, the spending pattern is a more worrisome aspect. The monthly accounts of expenditure released by Controller General of Accounts (CGA) till November, 2018 shows that in the last seven months, DSEL has spent only 39 percent of its total budgetary allocation, which was Rs 50,000 crore in 2018-19 (BE).
In the previous year by November 2017, the utilisation rate of the department was 65 percent, a 26-percentage point higher than the current year. In the coming five months, it would be difficult for DSEL to spend the remaining 61 percent and if even the department is able to spend a substantial amount of the remaining fund, there would be concerns regarding the quality of expenditure.
At this point, it is difficult to comment on the reasons for low utilisation levels - whether it is due to delays in the release of fund by Centre or the low absorption of resources by states. But what is certain is that it has a direct bearing on the entire school education system.
Over time different studies have pointed to the need for stepping up the investment for school education. Starting from the recruitment of teachers to teachers’ training, infrastructure, ensuring education for all children or strengthening of school management committees – each and every constituent of school education is suffering from fund shortage.
After coming to the power, the NDA government made promises to work towards the motto of ‘Sabko Shiksha Achchhi Shiksha’ (Education for All, Quality Education). In the last five years’ budget speeches, we have heard proposals aimed at improving the quality of school education.
Consequently, the focus of education policies has eventually shifted from inputs to outcomes. Unfortunately, the resource allocation towards education in the period of NDA government has not been in accord with the policy objectives. Though the education budget has increased in absolute terms, its share in total government expenditure has consistently decreased.
Between 2014-15 (Actuals) and 2018-19 (BE), the share of education expenditure in NDA government’s total expenditure has decreased from 4.1 percent to 3.7 percent. In the same period, the budgetary allocation for education as compared to country’s GDP has decreased from 0.64 percent to 0.45 percent.
As per the Constitution of India, the financing of education is a joint responsibility of Union and state governments. However, over time the Union government is gradually passing the buck to states. The process hastened after the recommendation of the 14th Finance Commission of larger devolution of central taxes to states.
A narrative has also been created that inadequacy of resources is no more a factor for poor quality of education in school. It is the under-utilisation of resources by the states, which has created this sorry state of school education. States counter argue that lesser allocation by the Centre than what was promised, delay in fund flow, over-centralisation of education policies and schemes are the underlying factors affecting states’ performance.
In this tug of war between Centre and states, the 60 percent children who are heavily dependent on public provisioning of school education suffer and are denied of availing their fundamental rights and entitlements.
Can’t we expect a good education budget in 2019-20 for the sake of these children?
(The author works with Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability (CBGA), New Delhi.)
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Updated Date: Jan 25, 2019 16:01:35 IST