School education is undeniably one of the most important aspects of our national development effort. It is unfortunate that in the case of some important programs of school education, during the last financial year 2019-20 budget cuts were made and the revised estimates (RE) were much lower than the original budget estimates (BE).
In the case of the National Means cum Merit Scholarship scheme the BE was Rs. 368 crore which was later revised to RE of Rs. 335 crore. In the case of the National Scheme for Incentive to Girl Child for Secondary Education the BE was Rs. 100 crore which was later lowered to RE of Rs. 88 crore. While calls were being given to extend the mid-day meals scheme to more classes the BE of Rs. 11000 crore for this program was brought down to RE of Rs. 9912 crore. The budget for National Child Labour Project was reduced from Rs. 100 crore to Rs. 79 crore.
According to analysis of this year’s budget by the Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability, the school education budget is becoming too dependent on various cesses. The main school education program is the Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan. This year 74 per cent of the budget for this program is estimated to be financed through education cess. What is more the total allocation for two important programs namely Kendriya Vidyalaya and Navodaya Vidyalaya is now linked to be financed from two sources—receipts from disinvestment of Central Public Sector Enterprises and the cess on petrol and diesel ( Central Roads and Infrastructure Fund).
This is a very unsatisfactory way of financing crucial programs of school education. Not only are adequate funds for proper school education not being provided but in addition the pattern of financing is also becoming increasingly unsatisfactory and unstable.
If one tries to match the total education cess collected during last several years with expenditure on school education then there are gaps here also indicating less than satisfactory utilization of the proceeds of education cess and possibilities of diversion elsewhere.
School education is of such great importance for the country and its future and yet it appears that the budget support for this critical sector remains highly unsatisfactory. This is a situation that calls for remedial action on priority basis.