ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Decoding the Three Pandemic Budgets

Education, Health, and Nutrition

Despite substantial socio-economic disparities in health, education, and nutrition outcomes, the government is pitching human development expenditure against capital expenditure. In a welfare state, social sector should be the centre of policy prescriptions. Instead of an imperfect assumption of trickle-down, the the government needs to realise that growth and development must go hand in hand.

The authors wish to thank Jean Drèze and Reetika Khera for their comments on an earlier draft of this article.

Due to the three major events in 2020, a thematic analysis of budgets from 2019–20 to 2022–23 is important. First is the outbreak of the ongoing (COVID-19) health crisis, which leaves none of the sectors of the economy unaffected. The second is the launch of the National Education Policy (NEP), 2020 (the first major revision since 1986), and the third is the release of the Comprehensive National Nutrition Survey (CNNS 2016–18) of adolescents (0–19 years) data. All these sectors (health, education, and nutrition) have a great bearing on an economy’s human development and human capital. Unfortunately, the pandemic affected the education and nutrition sector disproportionately, and the damages to these sectors are irreversible and have intergenerational implications. Early age nutrition is strongly associated with health and cognitive outcomes in the future. Further, in terms of education and nutrition disruptions, the most vulnerable people are from the disadvan­taged socio-economic spectrum of the society.

In today’s credentialism-based meritocratic society, affirmative action-ena­bled education is the only way for social mobility. The EPW (2022) editorial, rightly pointed out that a narrowed focus on a few infrastructure projects is hardly going to kick-start a virtual investment and growth cycle. This triggered us to ponder the questions on human development and the budgetary provisions to health, education, and nutrition in four union budgets of the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government. Even if a mere focus on infrastructure projects works in the best-case scenario, we must be concerned about how these benefits will trickle down to the poorest of the poor. Is infrastructure financed at the cost of education, health, or nutrition? What is being done to avoid the COVID-19-led school dropouts and learning and nutritional losses to children? All these matter from the perspective of a welfare state, a moral-humanitarian logic, and economic progress. Modern economic growth is driven by human capital, which is broadly defi­ned as an educated and healthy workforce.

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Updated On : 28th Nov, 2022
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