Indian Budget offers little to Christian community
The government of India’s annual budget for the financial year 2013-2014, a year that may possibly see a general election, has been panned by both the political right and the Left, but it is the religious minority that feels totally disappointed. The Christian community is particularly impacted as even the few government benefits are designed such as to benefit largely the Muslims, a major political segment assiduously wooed by the government.
The Union Budget presented to Parliament by Finance Minister Mr. P Chidambaram on 28th February has fallen far short of expectations of the Christian community. In the preparation of the 12th Five Year Plan, which becomes operational this year, they had forcefully sought specific mechanisms to ensure that funds meant for them actually devolved to the needy persons and areas in a transparent manner.
The Budget also conclusively shows that till religious minorities get a special component plan on the pattern of Scheduled Castes and Tribes, there will be little actual devolution of funds for their development. While presenting the annual general budget, finance minister P Chidambaram allocated welfare sub plans — Rs. 41,561 crore to the scheduled castes and Rs. 24,598 crore to the Tribals – which cannot be diverted and must be spent for the designated purpose.
In contrast, Government data shows that a large component of budget allocations for religious minorities in the past have remained unspent. There is little indication in the budget how the government intends to ensure that the moneys are spent on the target communities and specially to the Christian community, which has not got its fair share of these funds. The community must be assured that it will get its share of funding on a pro rata basis, specially in area development schemes and scholarships.
The finance minister has allocated Rs. 3,511 crore to the Ministry of Minority Affairs, a notional increase of 12% over the budget estimates of last which merely compensates for the rate of inflation. Year. The government has also allocated Rs 160 crores to the Rs 750 crore corpus of the Maulana Azad Education Foundation, the main vehicle to implement education schemes and channelised funds to non-government organisations for the minorities, but this alone does not increase direct support to disadvantaged children desirous of education.
In actual terms, only the pre-matric scholarship sees a real increase from Rs 540 crores to Rs 810 crores. The post matric scholarship sees only a small increase from Rs 405 to Rs 450 crore. Both schemes need much more resources, apart from funding to make them known to small towns and village populations.
The Christian community is the least benefited by the Multi Sectorial Development Programme in selected minority Districts, a scheme that benefits only one minority group, the Muslims who are euphemistically called a “vote bank”. And even here has been reduced sharply from the Rs 1,077.60 crore in 2012 budget to Rs 887 crore in the 2013-2014 crores. This scheme will benefit the Christian community only when it is sharply focused on the population figure for minorities at the block level. As it stands now, this scheme once again basically benefits Muslims who are concentrated in a 100 of the 600 districts in the country. If the focus shifts to blocks Christians, including fishermen in coastal areas and marginalised farmers, will benefit in states such as Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Punjab, apart from areas in other States.
Possibly the only segment of Mr. Chidambaram’s gender budget that can be welcomed wholeheartedly is the funding of Rs. 97,134 crore for women and a child budget of Rs. 77,236. Women belonging to most vulnerable groups, including single women and widows, will be to some extent helped in living a life of self-esteem and dignity. It is good that the ministry of women and child development had been asked to design schemes to gender discrimination especially at the work place. Our own experience which the situation of women and children in states such as Orissa and Madhya Pradesh show the plight of women and children in all aspects of life.