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Charter of Demands from Union Budget 2013-14 released

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By Pervez Bari

New Delhi: A Charter of Demands for the forthcoming Union Budget 2013-14 was released at the end of the two-day National Convention on Union Budget 2013-14, which concluded here at the India Islamic Cultural Centre on Thursday (December 6, 2012).

The process of Regional Conventions on Union Budget across five regions in the country, i.e. north & central, south, east, west and north east culminated in the National Convention here wherein representatives of around 150 Civil Societies from about 20 states in India together with representatives of associations/federations of frontline service providers in social sector schemes, members of PRIs and a number of academicians came together to discuss the regional inputs and collectively prepared the Charter of Demands from the forthcoming Union Budget.

Now, the Charter of Demands from the forthcoming Union Budget prepared in the National Convention will be shared with the Union Ministry of Finance, other Union Ministries that deal with social sectors and disadvantaged sections of population and a number of other key stakeholders.

K. Rahman Khan, Union Minister for Minority Affairs, addressing the closing plenary session of the National Convention assured the assemblage that he would forward the Charter of Demands to P. Chidambaram, Union Finance Minister, for necessary action. He lauded the efforts of CBGA and PBI for the initiative taken in this regard.

Mr. Khan revealed that the Government is in the process of re-structuring the Multi-Sectoral Development Programme, (MSDP), so that it becomes more effective and improves the quality of life of the people and reduces the imbalances in the Minority Concentration Districts, (MCDs).

Prof. Abhijit Sen, Member of Planning Commission of India, speaking on the occasion informed that the 12th Five Year Plan, (FYP), which has been uploaded on the Planning Commission website is in three volumes. The basic core of the proposed 12th FYP remains by and large growth-oriented. The broad vision and aspirations which the Twelfth Plan seeks to fulfil are reflected in the subtitle: ‘Faster, Sustainable, and More Inclusive Growth’. The simultaneous achievement of each of these elements is critical for the success of the Plan, he asserted.

Prof. Sen said that the policy challenge in the Twelfth Plan is two-fold. The immediate challenge is to reverse the observed deceleration in growth by reviving investment as quickly as possible. This calls for urgent action to tackle implementation constraints in infrastructure which are holding up large projects, combined with action to deal with tax related issues which have created uncertainty in the investment climate. From a longer term perspective, the Plan must put in place policies that can leverage the many strengths of the economy to bring it back to its Twelfth Five Year Plan real growth potential. This will take time but the aim should be to get back to 9 per cent growth by the end of the Twelfth Plan period, he added.

The National convention in New Delhi was organised by People’s Budget Initiative, (PBI), under the aegis of the Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability, (CBGA).

The closing session was moderated by Dr. Praveen Jha, Associate Professor in Jawaharlal Nehru University.

Earlier, after the fourth session there were Group Discussions on Charter of Demands from the Union Budget 2013-14 which. It was followed by fifth session on presentation of Charter of Demands for Union Budget 2013-14 emerging from People’s Budget Initiative after group discussions. The moderator was Ms Hilda Grace, president of Centre for Rural Studies and Development.

In the Charter of Demands the demands have been made under the 14 heads which include: Education; Health; Rural Development & Panchayati Raj Institutions; Agriculture; Food Security; Dalits; Muslims; Adivasis; Women; Children; Persons with Disabilities; Unorganised Workers; Responsiveness to Climate Change and Taxation.

The demands made under some of the heads are as follows:-

Education

1. The Union Government should take adequate measures towards increasing the country’s total budgetary spending education and begin by significantly stepping up outlays towards education in the Union Budget 2013-14; 2. Given the State Budgets account for a large share of government spending on education, the Union Government must apportion more untied budget to the State governments for extending and strengthening the public education system; 3. At the elementary level, it is crucial to ensure that financial provisions for implementing the Right to Education (RTE) Act 2009, are adequate. While the RTE rules have been notified by all states now, the requisite financial memorandum has not been provided by all. The Union Government would need to step up its allocations towards meeting the present shortfall.; 4. The government needs to significantly increase its outlays for Sarva Siksha Abhiyan, (SSA), for universalising quality of elementary education; 5. An Education Commission must be constituted at the earliest in order to ensure that there are sound institutional mechanisms that the need for bringing radical reforms in the education sector; etc.

Health

A long-pending recommendation that has remained unaddressed is the need for stepping up total public spending on health (by Centre and States combined) to 3 per cent of GDP, the present government spending on health is mere 1 per cent of GDP; Separate allocation should be made in the budget for procurement of essential drugs to ensure that there is universal access to medicines. Free referral services for all types of emergencies must also be budgeted for; With growing urban poor population, it becomes imperative that the policy focus (and concomitantly the budgets) be stepped up for developing and strengthening present structures of the urban healthcare systems; etc.

Muslims

Meanwhile, the Charter of Demands says that among the religious minority communities in the country, Muslims register the most acute forms of development deficit owing to the historical discrimination since pre-Independence times. The Sachar Committee Report recommended several measures in this regard and a close scrutiny reveals that many of these well-intentioned recommendations have not yet been implemented. The findings reveal that after five years of policy initiatives, concerns persists relating to policy provisions, budgetary outlays, utilisations of funds, and fine tuning the design of government programmes specific to the development of Muslims. Only miniscule proportions of benefits of the initiatives have gone to Muslims owing to continued discrimination, inadequate targetting, electoral considerations and weak implementing apparatus. A major share of the benefits is diverted to non-Muslims and non-minority areas due to ambiguity in policy provisions and unclear guidelines. The Union Budget 2013-14 must prioritise the implementation of many of these recommendations by allocating significant resources towards development of the Muslims. The 15-point demands put forward for Muslims are as follows:-

1. Budget of 58, 000 cr. should be allocated as demanded by MoMA, (Ministry of Minority Affairs), under 12th FYP; 2. Budget allocated for Minorities schemes should be made non-lapsable from 2013-14; 3. Allocation for establishment of National Data Bank for Minorities should be done 2013-14 onward; 4. Budget allocated for MCD under 15 points Programmes should not be used for general purpose. It must be minorities targeted; 5. Creation of special fund to compensate the victims of communal violence; 6. Facilitation centre to raise the awareness among minorities about the schemes related with them; 7. Focusing on promoting entrepreneurship development, Khadi and carpet weavers are not included in debt relief measures like those available for the handloom sector. This aspect needs to be attended to in the coming Union Budget. Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises should adopt guidelines to promote economic opportunities for Muslims; 8. Focusing on access to credit, the RBI guidelines to all banks to apportion 15% of credit to Muslims is not being adhered to; Union Budget 2013-14 must make specific recommendations in this regard; 9. Specific to education, the process of applying for scholarships by Muslim students is too cumbersome; this needs to be made easier. A related demand is to increase the unit costs of scholarship and other entitlements and aligning these with the norms in Kendriya Vidyalayas / Navodaya Vidyalayas. Suitable incentive mechanisms must also be devised in Union Budget 2013-14 to address the problem of high dropout ratio among Muslim students; 10. Specific to health, there is a need to prioritise setting up hospitals in minority concentrated districts; the outlays towards Multi Sectoral development Programme (MSDP) must be increased in this regard. Within health, greater attention needs to be paid to child health; 11. Muslim women remain doubly disadvantaged and their development needs to be prioritised in the budget outlays. Stepping up of the budget for short stay homes would address the problem of destitute Muslim women. Specific attention also needs to be paid to Muslim women accessing education and health services; 12. Two critical mechanisms – the MSDP and the PM’s New 15-Point Programme – continue to be the most important vehicles with regard to the overall development of Muslims. Greater attention needs to be paid to the prioritisation of these two interventions in the coming Union Budget. While stepping up outlays is one of the important ways of addressing the problem, it is also critical to ensure that the schemes are implemented more effectively and the services are delivered to the intended beneficiaries; 13. The MSDP and the PM’s New 15-Point Programme should adopt a village / hamlet level approach, instead of the prevailing district level approach, in identification of potential beneficiaries; 14. Also, the PM’s New 15-Point Programme should not be limited only to the ministries dealing with basic / essential services, rather it should be extended to all those sectors that are critical for long term development of Muslims and 15. There is a need to devolve greater financial powers to the National Minorities Development and Finance Corporation in order to ensure that the policy interventions being planned for the minorities and more specifically the Muslims are relevant and in keeping with the concerns of the intended beneficiaries.

It may be pointed here that the five Regional Conventions on the Union Budget 2013-14 were organised – in Chennai (for Southern Region) on November 9th, Ranchi (for Eastern Region) on November 17th, Guwahati (for North Eastern Region) and Lucknow (for Northern and Central Region) on November 21st and in Pune (for Western Region) on November 30th. In order to consolidate the expectations from Union Budget 2013-14 emerging from all the Regional Conventions, People’s Budget Initiative organised the National Convention in New Delhi on December 5 and 6.

[Pervez Bari is a senior Journalist based at Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh. He is associated with IndianMuslimObserver.com as Bureau Chief (Madhya Pradesh). He can be contacted at pervezbari@eth.net]
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