Budget 2021: Reactions from the social sector

On February 1, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman presented India’s first-ever paperless Budget. A lot of reforms were announced on migrant labour, renewable energy, and women and child welfare. Experts from the social sector weigh in.
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The Union Budget 2021-22 was a first-of-its-kind on many fronts. In addition to being the first paperless Budget, it was also the first since the pandemic forced the country into months of lockdown, which impacted not only the economy, but also the livelihoods of Indians, particularly in lower-income sections. So, it came as no surprise that there were a number of welfare schemes announced. We asked a few experts what they thought of Finance Minister Nirmala Sitaraman’s roadmap for reviving various sections of India’s social sector

Roopa Kudva

Roopa Kudva, MD, Omidyar Network India

"It is great to see the emphasis in the Budget on using technology as an enabler for social impact and inclusion in critical areas like education, urban governance, and provision of benefits to migrant workers. A 45 percent increase in the allocation to e-learning and the launch of a new scheme PM e-Vidya to provide multi-modal access to education for teachers and students can go a long way in strengthening education delivery, especially post COVID. 

The proposal to create a platform for unorganised migrant workers to access benefits under various welfare schemes is an important step, as migrant workers have been left out of the social safety net so far. There is also a new target to digitise 125 civic services across 25 cities through the Smart Cities Mission.

Digital infrastructure should continue to be given importance going forward. In addition to the technology, we will need good data governance and community engagement for the benefits to reach every Indian." 

Aniket Doegar, CEO and Co-founder, Haqdarshak Empowerment Solutions Private Limited 

We welcome the increased allocation on health schemes, Ujwala Yojana, and the focused vision on centrally sponsored schemes. Further, from a social welfare perspective, getting gig economy workers on a single platform with social security benefits is a big plus. 

With announcements on emergency credit for the agricultural sector, as well as the concessional credit boost to farmers, the last-mile linkages will be extremely critical to track. Further, we wish to see an increased focus on schemes for street vendors as well as micro entrepreneurs, as the budget towards MSMEs has been increased to over Rs.15,000 crore.

Sanjay Borkar, CEO and Co-founder, FarmERP

The Finance Minister has proposed to increase the agricultural credit to Rs 16.5 lakh crore, which was the highlight centering the Agricultural Budget. This credit can be used by smallholder farmers for CapEx, be for their vehicles or cold storage and other facilities that they require, and also as working capital during the crop cycle. 

 

One of India’s major concerning factors when it comes to agriculture is the infrastructure. The Agriculture Infrastructure and Development Cess (AIDC) proposed in this year’s Budget can bring in good revenue to help farmers overcome these shortcomings by allowing them to store their produce in cold storages, stores or typical warehouses and get better value for their produce. This will play a vital role in strengthening the agricultural supply chain which can ultimately benefit the farmers and the stakeholders.

 

The ‘Digital India’ movement initiated by the Government can help the farmers greatly. Though this movement is not directly focused on farmers, focusing on digital projects will promote the use of technology. This can be revolutionary for the rural sector including farmers as it can aid to improve the standard of living, manage finances, help provide better services and products to the end consumers."

 

Dr O P Agarwal

Dr OP Agarwal, CEO, WRI India

With infrastructure and inclusive development as one of Budget 2021-22’s six pillars, public transport has received a fillip. Allocation of Rs.18,000 crore for public buses in urban areas, pushing for 100 percent electrification of broad gauge rail tracks and bringing down logistics cost for railway by 2030, and the introduction of Metro-lite and Metro-neo for smaller cities, will impact a change in people’s commuting patterns.

This will improve our air quality, reduce road congestion and enable an equitable urban infrastructure for the future. Now, there is a need to strengthen the end-to-end connectivity to boost the use of public transport further. 

Namrata Ginoya, Manager – Climate Resilience Practice and Energy Access, WRI India

The FM’s budget speech highlighted how Minimum Support Price has supported farmers over the years. Increased cover through MSP is indeed good, but its allocation needs to be amended based on climate change projections, groundwater resources and fertiliser use to sustain production and improve uptake of local crops. 

Dr Malini Saba, Founder and Chairman, Saba Group and Anannke Foundation 

By incentivising the One Person Companies (OPCs) and increasing the thresholds for Paid up capital and turnover will truly help women-led startups ease their compliances requirement and grow without any restrictions. Strengthening of NCLT framework and e-Courts system through Data Analytics, AI and Machine learning will play a major role in facilitating case proceedings, curbing corruption, and bringing transparency in the matter.

 

‘Minimum wages’, ‘Stand up India’ schemes and the insurance cover under ‘Employees State Insurance Corporation’, is a commendable step and will increase the participation of women in all the categories and to set up new businesses. 

The household tap connections, under The Jal Jeevan Mission to provide safe and adequate drinking water will definitely help in eliminating the problem of decades old sanitation and health problems.

Tea plantation and production play a noteworthy task in the Indian economy and providing  Rs 1,000 crore for the welfare of tea workers especially women and their children in Assam and West Bengal will play an essential role in enhancing the health and efficiency of the plantation workers, generate livelihood and boost the economy.’’

Vivek Adhia, India Country Director, Institute for Sustainable Communities  

India’s Union Budget 2021 lays out clear directions for green, rapid and resilient recovery with significant boost in infrastructure investments and reform measures. Continued outlay on the clean air programme coupled with a boost in sustainable transport measures and vehicle scrappage policy in place, will help improve urban air quality across most regions.

 

With most cities staring at day-zero and increased water risks – the urban Jal Jeevan Mission, aimed at universal access for all – hopefully will bring in the right momentum on clean water and sanitation.

The Budget continues to address the challenge of power reforms, opening up consumer choices and bringing in economic stability of distribution companies. Continued clean energy boost, national apprenticeship programs, MSME support measures and production-linked incentives for manufacturing are additional pillars, advancing the country’s aspirations towards self-reliant growth.

Romit Sen, Associate Director – Water and Agriculture Programme, Institute for Sustainable Communities

The focus on enhancing household access to water in urban areas is a welcome move. However, the Budget did not have any mention of addressing water quality problems. With a large number of habitations affected by water quality, one cannot realise the mission of clean and safe drinking water for all.

Similarly, while the focus on solid and liquid waste management is encouraging, the Budget lacks proposals and outline for enhancing water supply through source strengthening, wastewater recycling.

The high demand for rural jobs under MGNREGA in the year 2020 owing to the reverse migration was an opportunity for the government to strengthen ecological restoration and natural resource conservation activities in rural areas under MGNREGA."

Anuradha Prasad

Anuradha Prasad, Founder and CEO, India Leaders for Social Sector 

The Education Budget 2021 comes as a much-needed respite for small charitable Trusts amidst post-COVID fund crunch and current compliance structure for the sector. The key focus areas in education: will be effective implementation of National Education Policy, setting up of Higher Education Commission and International research collaboration.

These resources and opportunities will empower the youth of our country, and India will benefit from the demographic dividend. The good news for the education sector is that the government has channelised efforts towards digitisation, be it the additional allocation for MGNREGS, aiming for a technology-driven education National Foundational Literacy and Numeracy Mission. We strongly believe these efforts will converge into building a holistic blueprint for development on all human development indicators and benchmarks."

Reeta Sonawat, Member of Advisory Council, Association of Indian Schools

Budget 2021 initiated a significant step with the announcement of 15,000 schools to be strengthened as per the NEP 2020. This holds greater relevance considering the overall impact COVID-19 has had on the education sector.

 

The education sector awaits a revival and Budget 2021 to an extent managed to address a few of the concerns.  For example, the move to raise the allocation for ‘Eklavya’ Schools to Rs 38 crore and Rs 40 crore for hilly areas is one such step.

 

Continuously trained teachers and sound curriculum which will give quality education to the children and better implementation of NEP 2020.

The role of public-private partnership will go a long way to achieve the goal of Budget 2021 and will help in digital curriculum and fast implementation of teacher training and their experience and expertise can be a great help in day to day running of these large numbers of schools.

Kamal Narayan Omer

Kamal Narayan Omer, CEO IHW Council

The most noteworthy aspect of the healthcare outlay this year is a distinct integration of health and wellbeing with causative factors such as nutrition and clean air. This is a marked departure from the previous Budget where curative features received the lion’s share of the outlay. This change in approach, driven by the once-in-a-century pandemic, augurs well for the overall healthcare landscape of India. The massive 137 percent increase in the budgetary outlay with a dedicated corpus of Rs 35,000 crore for COVID-19 vaccines was a much-needed step, and I congratulate the government on stepping away from the stock approach to healthcare.

Recognising the interlinking of health and socioeconomic and environmental factors such as malnutrition, safe water and air pollution also deserves a special mention – it will help reduce the burden of infectious diseases as well as fatal non-communicable diseases such as lung cancer which has been tightening its grip on the Indian population for some time now. The voluntary scrappage policy for vehicles aimed at reducing vehicular pollution will require dedicated communication for awareness.

Ulka Kelkar, Director, Climate, WRI India

Union Budget 2021 has announced a Green Hydrogen Mission. Not only is this essential to decarbonise heavy industries like steel and cement, but it also holds the key to clean electric mobility that doesn't depend on rare minerals. 

Namrata Ginoya, Manager – Climate Resilience Practice and Energy Access, WRI India

The FM’s Budget speech highlighted how Minimum Support Price has supported farmers over the years. Increased cover through MSP is indeed good but its allocation needs to be amended based on climate change projections, ground water resources and fertiliser use to sustain production and improve uptake of local crops. 

Dr Ajay Singh Nagpure, Director - Air Quality, WRI India

Budget 2021-22 saw a drop in the funds for air quality improvement from Rs 4,400 crore in 2020. Incidentally, last year’s funds remained largely unutilised by the urban local bodies. This year, a concerted effort by the states and cities to develop capacity will help use the allocated funds efficiently and impact on-ground change. 

Sumanta Kar, Senior Deputy National Director of SOS Children’s Villages of India

This is just the right Budget for the welfare of women and children as the Finance Minister has focused on increasing household income of farmers; strengthening the healthcare infrastructure, and promoting women's participation in the workforce, which are some of the key enablers of an equitable and knowledge society. Besides, the Budget has given the much-needed impetus to the implementation of the new National Education Policy. The attention to such key areas of development is crucial for every child to have the opportunity to grow into a contributing and responsible citizen.

In the wake of the pandemic-led disruptions, the need for ensuring social security, protection of livelihoods, and creating economic opportunities for women, and youth cannot be overlooked or overstated.

Hence, it is heartening to see the importance this Budget has given to doubling farmers' income, and opportunities for youth to learn vocational skills and become either employable or turn into entrepreneurs. Rs 3,000 crore is earmarked for this skilling initiative.

Dr Vivek Bindra, Founder and CEO Bada Business

The overall focus of the Budget has been on revival and generation of more economic activity in the economy. The Finance Minister rightly pointed out at the outset that this Budget has been prepared in never before seen circumstances. Economic revival is more important than fiscal prudence right now. So, we welcome the fact that the government has ensured a much-needed increase in expenditure at the expense of increasing the fiscal deficit.

Apart from a significant increase in healthcare outlay, another notable aspect of the Budget has been a sharp increase in capital expenditure which has been upped to Rs 5.54 lakh crore from Rs 4.39 lakh cr last fiscal. The government has committed to invest heavily in infrastructure building activities including major upgrade of the public transport system in urban areas, new public bus transport schemes and expansion of metro lines. This infusion of infrastructure funds will help generate much-needed economic activity and create new opportunities for employment.


For YourStory's multimedia coverage of Budget 2021, visit YourStory's Budget 2021 page or budget.yourstory.com

Edited by Diya Koshy George

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