The central government's COVID-19 response has seen more funds flow towards some of its flagship welfare programmes but less to others, a pre-budget analysis of the structure, fund flows and implementation of six key schemes carried out by Delhi-based think tank Centre for Policy Research (CPR) shows.
The study, part of CPR's Accountability Initiative, says Modi government front-loaded payments under the PM-KISAN farmer income support programme and provided additional provisions for the Mid-Day Meal scheme, but reduced budget allocations and spends for some other schemes targeting nutrition and education. The schemes analysed by CPR are Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi (PM-KISAN), Ayushman Bharat, Poshan Abhiyaan, Mid-Day Meal Scheme, Samagra Shiksha and Integrated Child Development Services.
Noting that the budgetary allocations for PM-KISAN have increased threefold since its launch in 2018-19, the study says that the 2020-21 allocation of Rs 75,000 crore for PM-KISAN, though a 38 per cent increase than FY 2019-20 Revised Estimate, was the same as the Budget Estimate of the previous year. Even though payments under the scheme are given in three instalments through a financial year, the government tried to mitigate the adverse effects of the COVID-19 pandemic by front loading instalments for FY 2020-21. As a result, by December 25, 2020, all three instalments, amounting to around Rs 58,613 crore got disbursed. This was 19 per cent more than total releases made in FY 2019-20 under the scheme, which provides annual cash transfer of Rs 6,000 to all landholding farmer families, in three equal instalments of Rs 2,000. The funds are credited through Direct Benefits Transfer (DBT) mode, into the bank accounts of the eligible farmers.
Since its launch in February 2019 (till December 31, 2020), government has released seven instalments under the scheme. While 10.69 crore farmers (93 per cent of registered farmers) had received at least one instalment, 3.76 crore farmers (33 per cent of registered farmers) had received all seven instalments by that time.
Of the two components of Ayushman Bharat, the one which receives bigger budgetary allocation, the health insurance scheme called Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (PMJAY), has been impacted by Covid-19 with resultant reduction in claims during 2020-21, the CPR study notes. It says that while government allocated Rs 6,400 crore to PMJAY in 2020-21 Budget Estimates (BEs), it is likely to be lower in the Revised Estimates (REs) due to low releases. "Till 20 November 2020, nearly halfway through the fiscal year, GoI had released only Rs 1,032 crore, or 16 per cent of the year's BEs," it observed. The study found that due to COVID-19 pandemic, the number of insurance claims filed decreased 64 percent during the March-April 2020 period after which packages for treating and testing COVID-19 were added into the scheme. It said the coverage of the scheme has been high and as on July 15, 2020, 58 per cent of eligible households were covered under PMJAY.
In the case of the second component - establishment of Health and Wellness Centres (HWCs) - the government had allocated Rs 1,600 crores in FY 2020-21. "Till September 2020, Rs 431 crore was spent. The HWCs were not used in COVID-19 tasks, and the pandemic did not disrupt their operationalisation. As on November 20, 2020, 50,069 HWCs were functional, accounting for 65 per cent of the cumulative target for FY 2020-21. There has been a significant increase in HWC footfall. Across India, as of October 2020, 2,672 lakh people visited HWCs, which was over three times the total footfall a year earlier," the study noted.
Ever since the government announced the launch of Ayushman Bharat on June 23, 2018, allocations have increased nearly five-fold and stood at Rs 2,400 crore in the Revised Estimates (REs). This further increased to Rs 3,200 crore in FY 2019-20. In FY 2020-21, Rs 6,400 crore was allocated to the scheme, double the REs for the previous year but the same as the Budget Estimates (BEs).
Till 31 October 2020, no state other than Nagaland had received any funds towards Poshan Abhiyaan (earlier known as the National Nutrition Mission), the central government's the flagship scheme to holistically address the prevalence of malnutrition in India through use of technology, convergence, behavioural change, training, and capacity building. The CPR study says though government allocated Rs 3,700 crore in FY 2020-21 Budget Estimates (BEs), a 9 per cent increase from previous year's Revised Estimates (REs), the release of funds has been low.
"Low releases and utilisation existed even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Cumulatively, from FY 2017-18 till 31 October 2020, only 46 per cent of the funds allocated had been released. Further, 46 per cent of funds released had been spent by states," the study points out. Incidentally, CPR study observes that the largest component of the scheme - Information and Communications Technology enabled Real Time Monitoring (ICT-RTM), accounting for 36 per cent of total expenditure till November 2019 - has been suspended as of September 2020. Similarly, there has been slow progress on nutritional outcome targets set under the scheme. "Between 2015-16 and 2019-20, prevalence of anaemia in children from 6-59 months increased for 16 out of 17 states. Similarly, prevalence of stunting and underweight increased in 11 out of 17 states," the study says.
Mid-Day Meal Scheme
The National Programme of Mid-Day Meals in School (MDM) saw allocations increase even though schools remained closed due to the pandemic during 2020-21. The CPR study said the government's allocation of Rs 11,000 crore for MDM, was an 11 per cent increase from previous year's REs but the same as the BEs. However, to ensure MDM provisioning during the COVID-19 pandemic, allocations were increased to Rs 13,400 crore. "Release of funds to states as a share of the approved budget declined marginally in FY 2020-21. In FY 2019-20, 77 per cent had been released till December (three quarters into the fiscal year). In FY 2020-21, for the same period, 73 per cent of approved budgets had been released to states," the study points out.
It also says that in FY 2020-21, as a one-time measure due to school closure because of the COVID-19 pandemic, government announced an additional fund release of Rs 1,600 crore to provide MDM or Food Security Allowance (FSA) during the summer vacation. "The pace of release of funds has been slow. Six states and UTs did not receive any funds till 31 December 2020, however, and the rest received it between September and November 2020," the study said.
At the start of FY21, government had allocated Rs 38,751 crore to Samagra Shiksha as per BEs, the CPR study notes. Though this was a 7 per cent increase from the REs for FY 2019-20, allocations were 16 per cent lower than projected demand of the Ministry of Education. The study points out that the release of funds to states, as a share of central allocations, were declining even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. "In FY 2018-19, 95 per cent of allocations were released. This decreased to 89 per cent in FY 2019-20. In FY 2020-21, till October 2020, only 29 per cent of central governmentI's allocations had been released to states," it says, adding that as with releases, expenditures by states out of their approved budgets have also been declining. "Expenditures dropped from 64 per cent in FY 2018-19 to 59 per cent in FY 2019-20. In FY 2020-21, potentially due to low releases, states had spent only 26 per cent of their total approved budgets during the first seven months." The Samagra Shiksha is an integrated scheme for school education, with an aim to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education to all children from pre-primary to higher secondary stages. The scheme integrates three erstwhile school education schemes, namely: Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA), and Teacher Education (TE)
Integrated Child Development Services
The Supplementary Nutrition Programme (SNP), the largest component of Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) programme saw 3 percent increase in fund releases despite closure of Anganwadi centres (AWCs) due to COVID-19. The reason was the provision of SNP continued with a focus on Take Home Ration and Ready-to-Eat meals. "The fund releases for SNP were 3 per cent higher in FY 2020-21 till December than the same period the previous year," CPR study said.
The government allocations for ICDS had increased by 16 per cent from Rs 17,705 crore in FY20 REs to Rs 20,532 crore in FY21 BEs, though it remained lower than the projected demand by 17 per cent, the study said.