[Editorial Analysis] The post-Covid priority

Mains Paper 3: Economy
Prelims level: Human Development Index
Mains level: Economic growth development and Mobilisation of resources

CONTEXT:

• Inequalities in India have been increasing over time. COVID-19 has further widened them.

• More attention will be given to the social sector in the forthcoming budget 2021-22.

ISSUES:

• India’s progress in the social sector has been much slower compared to its GDP growth. The two primary factors that adversely affect India’s human development are low levels of health attainments and education: India ranks 131 out of 189 countries on the Human Development Index (HDI).

• A look at the social sector expenditure over the last few years shows that the share of education as a percentage of GDP has been stagnant around 2.8-3 percent during 2014-15 to 2019-20.

• In the case of health, the expenditure as a percentage of GDP increased from 1.2 per cent to 1.5 per cent. This is lower than the required 2-3 per cent of GDP.

• There seems to be an increase in expenditure on “other” services like sports, art and culture, family welfare, water supply and sanitation, labour and labour welfare etc.

• The expenditures are inadequate in comparison to the problems in the sector. India’s social sector in general, and health and education in particular, encounter significant regional, social and gender disparities, slow growth in public expenditures and problems in delivery systems.

• The experience of COVID-19 has also shown that during pandemics we tend to neglect non-pandemic related patients. There are supply side problems regarding the health infrastructure. The pandemic has enhanced inequalities in education and has revealed the widening digital gap.

• Migrant workers were the most affected during the pandemic and that they do not have any safety nets.

• Another important issue in the social sector is that of undernutrition. The NFHS-5 report shows that malnutrition level has reduced marginally in a few states and has worsened in some other states, although some other indicators have improved between 2015-16 and 2019-20.

• Apart from undernutrition, obesity seems to be increasing in both rural and urban areas. The cost of ignoring hunger and malnutrition will be high for the country.

WHAT TO DO?

• Focus on social sector spending and efficiency in delivery systems is essential. India has somewhat progressed on bijli, sadak and paani, but it is essential to invest in the social sector. No country has progressed without investing in the social sector.

• The Union Budget for 2021-22 can give medium term direction to the social sector by increasing allocations, particularly in health and education and for social safety nets.

• An increase in health expenditure is also important to take care of the present and future pandemics.

• Health insurance is an important component of health coverage. But there is no alternative to universal health coverage including a focus on primary health centres to achieve the goals of the health sector.

• It is essential to have a huge increase in public expenditure on health and provide accessible, affordable and quality health coverage to all.

• Access and affordable affordable diversified food intake are important for reducing both undernutrition and obesity. There is a need to raise allocations for ICDS and other nutrition programmes.

• The determinants of nutrition are agriculture, health, women’s empowerment, including maternal and child practices, social protection, nutrition education, sanitation and drinking water. The Poshan Abhiyan is a good programme, but has to cover all these determinants with a multi-pronged approach to reduce undernutrition.

• Quality education is key for raising human development. Equality of opportunity in terms of quality education is the key for raising human development and for reducing inequalities in the labour market. Several committees have recommended that public expenditure on education should be at 6 per cent of GDP.

• There is a need to have safety nets like an employment guarantee scheme for the urban poor and facilities for migrants. Similarly, in rural areas, allocations to MGNREGA have to be increased because of the reverse migration.

• The government should give more focus to the social sector with better policies and implementation. It has to work closely with the states in revitalising the social sector as major expenditures particularly on health and education are met by them.

STEPS TAKEN BY THE GOVERNMENT:

• Cooking gas (Ujjwala Yojana) and electricity (Saubhagya Yojana), Swachh Bharat Abhiyan and initiatives for housing, financial inclusion and providing loans to the self-employed. These programmes have helped the vulnerable sections, particularly women.

• Another initiative of the government was to facilitate direct benefit transfers (DBT) for welfare schemes. These initiatives have to be continued.

WAY AHEAD:

• India is committed to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030, and social sector development is important in reaching them. Progress in this sector has intrinsic (for its own sake) and instrumental (for higher growth) value.

• We cannot have a society with slow progress in health and education. India, aspiring to be a global power, should have a harmonious and inclusive social sector development.

• This is also important for achieving the SDGs, reducing inequalities and building a $5 trillion economy faster. Higher social sector funding with better implementation and outcomes are needed.

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Prelims Questions:

Q.1) With reference to the India- Vietnam Virtual Summit, consider the following statements:

1. A ‘Joint Vision for Peace, Prosperity and People’ document was adopted during the Summit, to guide the future development of the India-Vietnam Comprehensive Strategic Partnership.

2. Implementation of the High Speed Guard Boat (HSGB) Manufacturing Project for Vietnam Border Guard Command under the US$ 100 million Defence Line of Credit extended by Government of India to Vietnam was also announced.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?
(a) 1 only
(b) 2 only
(c) Both 1 and 2
(d) Neither 1 nor 2
Answer: C

Mains Questions:

Q.1) Budget needs to ramp up spending on health and education. Pandemic has enhanced inequalities, shown up absence of safety nets. Comment.

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