In an attempt to live up to the aam aadmi poll posters, did the UPA play several smart tricks in the budget balancing the needs of fiscal prudence while making up with bluster what it couldnt back with substance on the social sector?
The trick has been to introduce the seeds of aam aadmi schemes but fund their flowering for economically better years once the economy recovers.
Take the case of the Integrated Child Development Scheme. The finance minister announced it would be universalized. But the allocation increase for the scheme meant to provide maternity benefits as well as nutritional security to children and women was a mere Rs 150 crore.
At the moment, there are roughly 6 lakh anganwadis whereas complete coverage of the 14 crore children in the country (instead of the 3.4 crore covered at present) requires 17 lakh anganwadis.
The Supreme Court demanded universalisation in 2001. There is a Rs 45,000 crore allocation under the 11th Plan but it wont get used this year saving the FM the trouble of finding another revenue source to balance the outgo. Congress made a political commitment in its manifesto to bring NREGA wages to Rs 100 per day at real terms and to provide 100 days employment to everyone implying all adults in a family instead of one per family. The second promise did not find reflection in the Budget at all.
In rural housing, the allocation has actually gone Rs 1 crore below the Rs 7,919 crore spent in the previous year. Instead Rs 100 crore in this years budget has been allocated for the Pradhan Mantri Adarsh Gram Yojana a more focused scheme for the SCs and STs.
The fact that the Food Security Act is yet to crystallize has also helped the government in keeping its food subsidy bill low for the moment. With all indications that the bill would be tabled in the winter session of Parliament, the government can wait till next year to provide financial flows for it. Then again, as the PM suggested, the number of beneficiaries would decide how deep a dent it makes in government till.