For those who expected big ticket announcements for the social sector, particularly in the context of poor economic growth and high inflation, Arun Jaitley’s budget must have been disappointing. Other than retail announcements such as five IITs, five IIMs and four AIIMs and budget allocations for small several initiatives, his speech was lacking in a big idea or a vision that will set the course for the pro-poor policies of the Narendra Modi government. Neither were the retail announcements adding up to a big idea. Arun Jaitley during is budget speech in Parliament. PTI Among whatever he announced only two stood out: the one on on financial inclusion — two bank accounts for every household which will provide access to various banking services including credit; and total sanitation for all households. What’s surprising is that that the minister did mention upfront the needs of people living below the poverty line as one of his priorities; but he failed to follow it up and spell out what he intended to do for them. Interestingly, there was a hint of a qualitative shift in the government’s approach to subsidies and poverty programmes. He said the they will be targeted, an approach that evoked flak during the UPA regime. However, he didn’t mention which of the programmes are going to be targeted, if there is going to be major shift in the way subsidies are paid and who all will be excluded, particularly in view of the new poverty estimates by the Rangarajan committee. We may have to wait and see. What was grossly missing, after some encouraging advance information from the BJP camp, was the plans for universal healthcare. There was widespread expectation for universal healthcare, but the only context in which the phrase was used was when he announced the setting up of four AIIMS. There were a few other announcements as well, but nothing added up to a “health for all”! Of course MNREGA will be retained — not a new idea though — but would be modified by including public works that are productive, asset creative and useful for sectors such as agriculture. Here are some of his announcements for the social sector: * Minimum pension of Rs 1000 under the EPS * “Beti Bachao, beti padhao”, scheme for girl’s education and protection of the girl child – Rs 100 crore * Gender mainstreaming — inclusion of gender in school curriculum * Bank loans for SHGs, start-up entrepreneurship villages * Rural housing scheme — allocation raised to Rs 8000 crore * Sanitation — every household to be covered by total sanitation by 2019 (Swacha Bharath Abhiyan)

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