There appears to be a ‘convenient federalism’ at play where while bulldozing its agenda over the states in all other matters, in financial terms, the Centre leaves the lion’s share of the work to the States, observes Sadat Hussain

The Finance Minister, Government of India presented the Union Budget of India for the financial year 2022-23 worth ₹3944909 Crore on 1st February 2022. This budget is ₹174909 crore more than the revised estimates of financial year 2021-22. Like the current financial year (2021-22), the upcoming financial year’s budget (2022-23) has also been presented during the Covid-19 pandemic. For the last two years, the social sector of this country has faced immense challenges of successive Covid ‘variants’ that have led to a stop-start recovery and great uncertainty. Social sectors like livelihood, health, education, nutrition, and employment generation have suffered. In this scenario the victims of this upheaval have been waiting for relief in the form of the Union Budget, but unfortunately two Union Budgets have passed with little hope, with a realisation that quality allocation in the field of education remains a distant dream, patch-worked over with abstract promises of Digital India.

SOME KEY TAKEAWAYS FROM THE BUDGET

The Centre’s share in education for the financial 2022-23 is just 0.51% of GDP: India is still yet to reach the target of 6% of GDP in education sector and healthy outlay target for minorities’ welfare, that is, 2% of total budget. In the Union Budget 2022-23 the budget allocated for education sector is ₹104277.72 crore, which is ₹11053.72 crore more than the Union Budget 2021-22 for the education sector. But this figure is still not up to the mark because this allocation is still around 0.51% of the GDP. In the last budget, the central government’s share was only 0.41% of the GDP and the state’s share in the last budget was 3.99% of the GDP. It means this year also the centre is intended to depend more on the share from the states in the education sector.

NEPs of past and present and their required targets unfulfilled: The Education Commission of India 1964-66, which is also known as Kothari Commission, suggested 6% of GDP as the target in 1985. The commission advised, “If education is to develop adequately, the proportion of GNP allocated to education will rise to 6% in 1985-86.” In 1968 National Policy for Education (NPE), it was also resolved to implement the 6% of GNP. But over the year budgetary expenditure on education sector never crossed 4.5% of GDP even after taking majority of the share of educational spending from the states.

In the last five years the share of the Centre alone in educational spending never crossed 0.5% mark of total GDP. The BE in education sector also suggests that the Government is not even serious about New National Education Policy (NEP) 2020. In the NEP 2020, the aspiration of spending 6% of GDP on education was emphasised yet again. Ideally, if adjusted according to the expansion of Indian Economy, Inflation, the growing population of India, and the many changes in the education sector, the budgetary needs must be more than 10% of GDP. However, that is a distant dream. The Government of India is yet to achieve the long pending benchmark of 6% of GDP.

Literacy programmes and ground realities: For the financial year 2022-23, budgetary allocation for school education outlay is ₹63449.37 crore which is 8576.37 higher than the previous budgetary expenditure. In this, the major share of increment happened in the allocation of Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA). The budget for SSA has increased by ₹6333.2 crore. This marginal increment is appreciable but still the question remains of quality allocation, given the context of the public education system in India. Apart from pandemic-related effects on the school education system, the system is currently facing other issues and challenges too. As per U-DISE report 2019-20, 22.7% of the government schools are yet to have functional electricity. As per Union Education Ministry in 2021, 15 crore children are out of school. As per the State Education Report for India 2021 released by UN, school education in India has a shortfall of 19% when it comes to teachers. In this scenario, how far is the above mentioned allocation effective or adequate? And how far will it address the growing problems?

Overt emphasis on digital education, silence on digital divide: In the budget speech, the major focus was on digital education, but it is highly doubtful whether the given allocation will be able to address the problems of digital divide and the preparedness and training of teachers on how to effectively teach children through online tools and techniques. ASSOCHAM in 2020 reported that only 17% of Government schools were trained to teach through digital technology. The solution presented for learning loss is questionable. How is the increase of TV channels from 12 to 200 going to address the much deeper problem? There has been immense learning deprivation of students in India. This budget hardly has any allocation for such training.

Operation Digital Board (ODB) scheme’s allocation is slashed from 1 crore to zero and Pradhan Mantri Innovative Learning Programme (DHRUV) has been slashed from ₹10 crore to ₹3.26 crore. The schemes for teacher training and adult education have been slashed from ₹250 crore to ₹127 crore in the Budget 2022-23. Many educationists and policymakers previously had observed that the introduction of Mid-Day Meals has helped the state to increase the enrolment rates but in this budget, Support for National Programme of Mid-Day meal in schools has been completely slashed, allegedly being replaced by PM-POSHAN scheme, which was touted to be a wider programme, but the budget has remained the same. Additionally, a great deal of funds of PM-POSHAN have previously been sidetracked to the technical requirements of the POSHAN Tracker app rather than any ground spending, a situation akin to how the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao flagship scheme was found to be spending most of its funds on advertisements.

Higher education, slashed funding and increasing commercialisation: In the Budget 2022-23, the budgeted expenditure for higher education is ₹40828.35 crore which is 6.46% higher than the previous budget. This increment also needs to be assessed on the grounds of whether the increment is having any quality element or is it just a numerical increment. The enrolment of students, number of universities (majorly private universities) and the demand for medical education and other professional education of engineering, science, technology and management have been growing year by year. Growing cut-offs in the colleges of Delhi University and other colleges of Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu explains that there is a huge demand for such education.

Growing aspiration for medical education among children and parents suggests that the system of medical education needs more supply of medical education by expanding the medical education system to contain majority of the medical aspirants. In short, the present medical education system is failing to  contain the large medical aspirants in its fold due to scarcity of the number of colleges available in the medical education market. Though the budget allocations for IITs, NITs, ISER, IIMs have increased but to address the huge gap of demand and supply of professional education offered by the institutes of national importance is absent. Neither there is any budgetary allocation to contain the demand for college education.

Apart from this, the NEP 2020 emphasises on multidisciplinary approach but in this budget, budget for establishing multidisciplinary research universities and HEFA has been slashed. HEFA budget has been slashed from 1 crore in the previous budget to 0.01 crore in this budget. Student financial aid has been slashed by 16.29% from the previous budget.

Madhyamik and Uchhatar Siksha Kosh has not been getting any allocation in the past two years. In 2020-21, ₹163.88 crore was allocated. The budget speech talked about PM e-Vidya with greater emphasis but when it comes to allocation of fund for this project, it has been reduced from 50 crore in the budget 2021-22 to 0.01 crore for the financial year 2022-23. NEP 2020 has talked about Digital India but the total budget for Digital India has been reduced from 645.61 crore to 421.01 crore in this budget. In short, 34.78% budget of Digital India e-learning has been slashed when the country is facing digital divide and lack of preparedness for the e-learning.

NEP 2020 talks about the revamping of the education system in India and aspires for moving towards the holistic education system, but the last two budgets after the introduction of NEP 2020 reveal the Government spending less on education and making little substantive qualitative contribution.

The Government lacks any roadmap to implement their own ambitious policy. On the one hand, when it comes to policy design and control of the education system, the Government intends to centralise and dilute the constitutional morality of federal structure; on the other hand, they clearly intend to transfer the whole burden onto the states when it comes to the spending in the education sector. There appears to be a ‘convenient federalism’ at play where while bulldozing its agenda over the states in all other matters, in financial terms, the Centre leaves the lion’s share of the work to the States.

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