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What invisible India wants from the budget

Jul 06, 2009

Development of local infrastructure including access to a fully functional school and health centre tops the list of demands put forth by the All India People’s Manifesto. Lysa John from Wada Na Todo Abhiyan flags some of the key expectations of citizens from India’s budget this year.

It is time again to call upon Kalavati Bandurkar – the face of Rahul Gandhi’s speech in parliament last year as he rallied for the Indo-US nuclear deal. While announcing the 2009 budget, the government would do well to remember Kalavati and the five lakh people she represents. The final test of our national priorities should be in the analysis of whether they change the way the most vulnerable sections of our population live. Kalavati was in Delhi last month to release a manifesto that voices their concerns and hopes for Budget 2009-10.

The proposal was the All India People’s Manifesto, compiled by Wada Na Todo Abhiyan, a national coalition of more than 3,000 grassroots organisations. Through public hearings in over 300 constituencies in the last four months, the coalition tried to understand what citizens want from their government. These are their priorities: 

A tap and a toilet for every household

The development of local infrastructure emerged as the topmost demand in 20 of the 29 states/union territories covered under the People’s Manifesto. In addition to housing, roads, public transport and electricity, the most persistent demand across the country was the humble aspiration for ‘a tap and a toilet’. Safe water and waste disposal systems should be a crucial strategy to ensure the health of millions across the country, but the interim budget of 2009-10, presented earlier this year, does not reflect an increased investment for water supply and sanitation, despite concerns recorded in the 37th Report of the Standing Committee on Rural

Development on the inadequate funds for drinking water initiatives. On the contrary, the provision for the urban low-cost sanitation programme has seen a drastic reduction from Rs 150 crore to Rs 40 crore in 2008-09.

A fully functional school and  health centre for every village 

Across the states, there is deep frus - tration at the neglect of public institutions for health and education. By the government’s own estimates, an additional 22,000 sub-centres and 2,00,000 Auxilliary Nurse Midwives (ANMs) are required to enable full coverage of the National Rural Health Mission. In education, initiatives like Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan have increased enrolment, but the government still needs to address a serious deficit of 4,00,000 schools and double the number of teachers available to meet the prescribed teacher to student ratio of 1:40.

The People’s Manifesto points to a three-pronged strategy to ensure that every family is assured of access to a fully functional school and health centre. First, the UPA needs to follow through on its own commitment of investing nine percent of the GDP in primary health and education. While the national expenditure on education has remained around three percent of GDP, our public health spend of less than a percent of GDP is among the lowest in the world.

Secondly, it must prioritise the enactment of an undiluted Right to Education Bill which abides by the universal definition of the child (birth to 18 years) and creates a uniform standard of free and quality education across the country. Third, it must adopt a National Public Health Act which allows citizens to legally claim the standards of service currently outlined in the National Rural Health Mission.

Making economic growth work for the poor

In addition to the universal coverage of NREGA (across all adults and to urban areas), the People’s Manifesto calls for fundamental measures to revitalise agriculture and the rural economy. Provisions for agriculture have dropped sharply from 5.8 to 3.7 percent of the total plan investment between the Seventh to the Eleventh Five Year Plan. Expenditure on agriculture in the national budget has been at an average of 1.5 percent of GDP across 2004-09, with less than three percent of this allocation utilised to create the capital required for sustained growth.

And finally, while the Food Guarantee Act has been a key election promise, the outlay for food subsidies proposed in the Interim Budget of 2009-10 presents a decline of Rs 1,150 crore since last year.

The question of food and livelihoods is integrally linked with policies that will ensure local control over natural resources. In addition to stronger implementation of the Forest Rights Act, 2006, a ‘people-first’ thrust to the pending Land Acquisition (Amendment) will critically determine whether farmers and tribal villages across the country will have the power to protect their land and livelihoods against the onslaught of State and corporate forces.

Social inclusion as a core strategy

Strategies for greater political and economic participation have emerged as the fourth pillar of the People’s Manifesto. In this context, the Women’s Reservation Bill, Equal Opportunities Commission and proportionate allocation for the Dalit and Tribal Sub-Plans have been reinforced as long-term strategies to shift the balance of power in favour of the marginalised.

The manifesto prioritises a strong stand against communal, caste and domestic violence. While there has been some discussion within the UPA on the need for a fresh look at the Communal Violence Bill, we hope that we will also see reforms for a secular police force, progressive judiciary and responsive administration.

By enabling these investments, the UPA could well ensure that the Kalavatis of India can experience a life of dignity in the form of tangible rights rather than in the guise of distant promises.

The author is National Campaign Co ordinator for Wada Na Todo Abhiyan.

Source : Tehelka
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