India Budget 2018-19:

Does it augur well for tribals?

 Action on Hunger & Poverty Foundation (AHP) is a National Organisation that supports, develops and strengthens people’s organisations at the community level to support themselves through capacity building, fellowships and small grants. AHP works with tribal communities for their development in areas like education, health and livelihood. This post aims to understand and analyse how the Union Budget, 2017-18 impacts the tribal communities. Where support is available, it is essential that the same be highlighted so that tribal people can make use of the said provisions. Where there are lacunae, it is essential to point them out for improved policy making going forward and to encourage awareness among tribals to ask for specific provisions.

In its last full year budget before the general elections in 2018-19, the NDA government showed a populist slant. Since the tribal communities are among the deprived groups in the country, in the same vein, there was some focus on their development in the budget speech as well.

In general, there is an increase in overall provisions for spending in tribal areas. In particular, the plan and provisions for high quality education were mentioned. There was also continued focus on provisions for livelihood from the previous budget. However, there are no specific provisions for the health segment. The community could benefit, however, from the newly announced health insurance scheme, which aims to provide financial support to poor families in the country.

Increased overall provisions for tribals

Expenditure on tribal people cuts through a number of central government ministries, since a number of tribal welfare measures fall under umbrella programmes. The complete allocation for scheduled tribes for 2018-19 across ministries stands at INR 39,135cr, which is a significant increase of 22% from the budget estimates (BE) for the previous year and a 20.4% increase over revised estimates (RE) for the previous year. This is a positive development, since not just is there an appreciable rise in spending for tribal populations, but the actual spending is slightly higher than the amount earmarked during the year.

Zoning in on the allocation of expenditure to the Ministry of Tribal Affairs (MoTA) shows a fairly decent expansion of 12.6% in to INR 6,000cr for 2018-19, as per the demand for grants. This increase is not much short of a 13.8% increase in overall budgetary spends. Total government budget expenditure has increased on account of higher revenue expenditure, while provisions for capital spending have declined compared to the BE for 2017-18. However, hearteningly, capital spending for MoTA is earmarked to increase by 8.3% in 2018-19 to INR 65cr from INR 60cr. In absolute terms, the capital spending is small, contributing to only 1.1% of total spending. The rest of the spending is in terms of revenue expenditure, which is slated to grow by 12.6% during 2018-19. However, in so far as capital spending is necessary for overall development, capacity building and even employment provision, the increased investments in tribal areas can contribute to a faster pace of growth for the communities.

Focus on quality tribal education, scholarships; not on ashram schools

From a sectoral perspective, education is a key focus area for tribals in the latest budget. In his budget speech, the Finance Minister mentions the following

“The Government is committed to provide the best quality education to the tribal children in their own environment. To realise this mission, it has been decided that by the year 2022, every block with more than 50% ST population and at least 20,000 tribal persons, will have an Ekalavya Model Residential School. Ekalavya schools will be on par with Navodaya Vidyalayas and will have special facilities for preserving local art and culture besides providing training in sports and skill development.”

The Eklavya Model Residential Schools (EMRSs) have been established across States and UTs with a capacity of 480 students each. The objective of these schools is to provide quality middle and high level education to ST students in remote areas. This in turn is expected to enable reservation in high and professional educational courses as well as get jobs in both public and private sectors. As per the MoTA’s annual report of 2017-18, 271 EMRSs have been sanctioned of which 190 are in operation while the rest are under construction. The centre provides INR 30 lakh at one time for establishing a school, and a recurring sum of INR 30 lakh every year. All other costs are borne by the states housing the schools.

While this is a continued step in the right direction, the goal of provision of EMRSs for areas with over 50% tribal population appears to be a dilution from the MoTA’s identification of 163 priority districts with over 25% of tribal populations to set up these schools. In so far as the scheme is a demand driven one, however, it is unclear whether the latest announcement is on account of re-evaluation of needs or limited funding capability for the scheme.

From the perspective of spending on tribal education by MoTA, which covers scholarship provisions, setting up of hostels and ashram schools as a sum of both Central Sector Schemes (which are those that are funded entirely by the centre) and Centrally Sponsored Schemes (where the expenditure is shared by both the centre and the states) has increased by 16% from the BE, 2017-18 and by 9% from RE for 2017-18. Note that the increase in expenditure for education is higher than the overall increase pencilled in for MoTA during the year, suggesting increased focus on the sector.

The focus of spending on tribal education during 2018-19 is entirely on scholarships, however. These include scholarships to tribal students for higher studies, to study abroad as well as post matric and pre matric scholarships. The largest segment of scholarships is earmarked for post-matric scholarships to the tune of INR 1,586 crore, an almost 18% increase from the BE of the previous year. INR 350cr is earmarked for pre-matric scholarships. A sum of INR 2cr has been provided for scholarships for studying abroad, a doubling from the previous year.  The only exception to the overall increase in scholarship provisions is The National Fellowship and Scholarship for higher education of ST students. This segment, with an allocation of INR 100cr in 2018-19, shows a 17% decline from the BE. This could have to do with the fact that scholarships of only INR 100cr were doled out during the previous year, and therefore the budgeted amount for the present year is in line with the actual spending.

There are some heads under education expenditure, however, which have seen no allocations for 2018-19, like, building hostels, vocational training or ashram schools compared to the sum total of INR 23cr pencilled in during the previous year. Even during the previous year, less than allocated funding was spent on both hostels and ashram schools, and none on vocational training as per the RE. It is important to flag the overlooking of the ashram schools’ category, since state governments are eligible for 100% funding from the centre for all such schools for girls and all such schools for boys in naxal affected areas. In so far as there is no funding provision in 2018-19, both these critical areas of development are hit. Further, it is essential to not just maintain but to further education at the primary and secondary levels for tribals, if encouragement for higher education is to be provided on a continued basis going forward.

Healthcare missed, but insurance provision could benefit

There was little to highlight by way of budget provisions for health of tribal populations this year. The only health related scheme that can work in their favour, however, is the newly announced health insurance scheme, which focuses on the poorest economic groups in the country, which includes appreciable proportion of the ST population. The budget speech stated:

“We will launch a flagship National Health Protection Scheme to cover over 10 crore poor and vulnerable families (approximately 50 crore beneficiaries) providing coverage upto 5 lakh rupees per family per year for secondary and tertiary care hospitalization. This will be the world’s largest government funded health care programme. Adequate funds will be provided for smooth implementation of this programme.”

The scheme represents a significant improvement over the present scheme, which is able to provide support to only 30,000 families. Further, the budget has committed INR 1,200cr under the National Health Policy, 2017. As per this policy, 150,000 health and wellness centres are being established, which will provide comprehensive healthcare as well as free medicines and diagnostics. This could have some benefits for STs too.

Financial, marketing and price support for tribal livelihood

With respect to support for livelihood, a key point noted in the budget speech is with respect to the MUDRA yojana, in which hitherto deprived groups like SCs, STs and OBCs have been beneficiaries. It says the following:

“MUDRA Yojana launched in April, 2015 has led to sanction of `4.6 lakh crore in credit from 10.38 crore MUDRA loans. 76% of loan accounts are of women and more than 50% belong to SCs, STs and OBCs. It is proposed to set a target of `3 lakh crore for lending under MUDRA for 2018-19 after having successfully exceeded the targets in all previous years. “

MUDRA, which is the abbreviation for Micro Units Development and Refinance Agency, is a scheme for providing loans of up to INR 10 lakh for non-corporate, non-farm small and micro enterprises. An increase in the sum allocated to the scheme, is a positive development for all groups availing of the loans and will likely benefit STs positively as well.

However, going by the numbers for the previous years, a focused approach to loan provisions for STs would have been even more beneficial. At present STs form only a small proportion of these loans. As per the last Pradhan Mantri Mudra Yojana (PMMY) report for year 2016-17, STs accounted for less than 3% of the total amount sanctioned and 4.5% of the total accounts created for the purpose; much larger shares are visible for SCs and OBCs. This is far lesser than the approximately 8% proportion of STs in total population of the country, indicating that that the group’s share in PMMY could potentially increase, even though not every community needs represented to the exact proportion in population.

There is also an over 8% increase in support to the National State Scheduled Tribes Finance and Development Corporation, under MoTA to INR 65cr for 2018-19. This adds to the provisions available for STs under PMMY.

An increase in minimum support prices (MSPs) to 50% over and above the cost of production for agricultural produce, in a bid to provide greater income security to the farming community, has been one of the key highlights of the 2018-19 budget. In so far as forest produce is also covered by MSPs, there could be some potential benefit to the tribal population. As per the demand for grants, the head of ‘Minimum support price for Minor Forest Produce’ of the MoTA, INR 130cr has been earmarked for the scheme, an increase of 30% from BE of the previous year.

While this is a positive, two points need to be noted with respect to on the ground efficacy of the scheme. One, the funds allocated as MSP provision kicks in only if market price of agricultural produce falls below it. The earmarked funds remain unutilised if it does not. For instance, in 2017-18, only INR 25cr were spent on this scheme as opposed to the INR 100cr allocate as per the demand for grants. This also ties in with, two, the fact that a number of agricultural commodities already have market prices either close to or above 50% the cost of production, therefore the provision may prove redundant.

Therefore, it is difficult to say at the present point in time whether the increased allocation will in fact benefit the tribal community at all or not. However, it does guarantee that if market prices fall significantly, MSP provisions will be able to provide for the necessary government purchases of forest produce.

The MoTA’s demand for grants also entails livelihood support for tribal communities through better marketing opportunities under the head of ‘Institutional Support for Development and Marketing of Tribal Products’. The sum allocated under the head shows, a 10% increase, indicative of improved focus on the scheme. In 2018-19, a sum of INR 54cr has been earmarked for it, up from INR 49cr during BE, 2017-18. The scheme also has a decent track record in implementation, with INR 45cr being spent as per the RE figures.

Positive focus but gaps remain

In sum, the budget has a strong focus on both education and livelihood segments, which will both contribute to both the present wellbeing and future of the group. However, there are gaps in provisions as well. Specifically, the healthcare segment does not find a mention with respect to the tribal community, though the expansion of the health insurance scheme could benefit the segment. With respect to education, more focus on infrastructure development and ashram schools would have bolstered the expressed focus on EMRSs and scholarships for higher education. On the livelihood segment, ensuring a minimum guaranteed agricultural income by ensuring that MSPs are 50% over the cost of production is a step in the right direction. However, the applicability of the scheme remains to be seen.