A chirpy note on TN budget 2007-08


Tamil Nadu has many significan policy success stories – in part due to getting the budgetary priorities right

We are living in a time when positive media coverage of budget is restricted either to tax cuts or for reducing fiscal deficits. Despite the fact that enormous proportion of India’s GDP is spent by the government, media hardly discusses what governments spend on, and how.  State government budgets are crucial to national development given that states are in charge of important areas such as education, health, water, etc.  Given my interests, I have closely followed education, health, child care and a few other sectors – and in many of these TN is a success story in a world scale.  This post does not give a critical scrutiny that the budget deserves; I merely wish to point out a few positive things that often do not get much attention in the media and elsewhere.  For news and articles on TN Bugdet in the media click here.

Education

TN already has many important achievements in the field of basic education.  With funtional schools, early childhood education, mid-day meals and other incentives, TN is now achieving high levels of class 10 completion at a time when 1/3rd of India’s children are struggling to finish class 5.  TN’s achievements cannot be understated.  In doing this the legendary decision of MGR to universalise school feeding has been an important factor.  Since then, it has got sustained political attention and priority.  In keeping with this a decision was made to introduce an addtional egg per week in the meal (going up from two) this year.  I cannot help mentioning this given my involvement with the mid-day meal campaign.  A few other interventions though are of greater significance.

Extending activity based learning in primary schools

One major welcome step in the budget (that may easily escape notice) is the decision to extend “Activity based learning” in government primary schools.  This has been introduced experimentally in many schools in Tamil Nadu and I happened to see one in action in Ashok Nagar, Madras.  I found the syllabus nicely designed and the teachers well trained.  The whole system was based on play-way learning and children were wildly excited with their work.  It would be fantastic if this were extended across the state.  Needless to say, it needs careful and adequate training of teachers – in my experience in TN, this is well within possibility.

Bicycles for class 11 students

A huge allocation of 102 crores has been made for giving free bicycles to students of class 11 in government schools.  Given the high rate of drop-out after class 10, this may act as a great incentive for children to study further.  Given that higher secondary schools are often further from the village, this may even be of important practical consequence to children.  How this ends up working needs to be seen – but to their credit the Dravidian parties have shown a remarkable acumen to understand poor people in the past – hopefully it would be true this time as well.

No fees in government arts and science colleges

In a fairly remarkable step, the government has waived all fees in government ars and science colleges.  I studied at St. Joseph’s College, Tiruchy that has a policy of admitting mostly students from rural areas.  Many students got the benefit of fee waivers and even college provided lunch.  This enabled many of them to take up higher education and as a result I had classmates who lived in the slums of Tiruchy.  With this background, and knowing that a lot of poor students do go to government colleges, this appears to me to be a good step.  The Dravidian parties have rightly emphasised on education for a long time.  It is only a logical step to take the emphasis to higher education.

That said, during my last visit to Tiruchy, I was told that many colleges are not replacing teachers since UGC has put a virtual ban on recruitment in Arts and Science colleges.  As a result some classes were not even being taught.  SJC, I heard, had recruited some teachers on an ad hoc basis using their management funds.  I hope a measure like this does not further erode the financial capacity of colleges and cause havoc.  The budget speech did not have any mention of additional allocation in light of this – but I hope some thought is going on about this rather important – neglected issue.

Pulses and cooking oil in PDS

Apart from cheap rice, the government has decided to introduce pulses and cooking oil in PDS immediately in light of inflation.  As an idea, I welcome it.  But I feel that there’s more corruption in PDS than in education and other fields I am acquainted with.  In a study done by Agarwal et al, they found that Tamil Nadu had almost 50 % “leakage” between overall supply and reach.  This did not account for substitution of good grains with bad ones.  I am not sure how much of it happens at the FCI level and how much at the State Trading Corporation…but this is an issue to be tackled.

One measure that has been introduced to tackle corruption in this budget is the provision of electronic weighing machines in all PDS shops (about 23, 601).  This will check petty corruption at the issue end as long as people are able to prevail over the dealers.  This is a welcome step.

Health and family welfare

TNs basic health system is also reasonably reputed.  Off-late a lot of emphasis has been made on maternal and child health.  In keeping with this priority, a maternal assistance of Rs. 6, 000 was introduced by this government.  Given that a lot of poor women are forced to work till their 9th month of pregnancy and to resume work immediately after child birth, this can be of crucial effect.  The assistance can make it possible for women to take much needed rest before and after delivery.  Additionally, it can enable the woman to take better care of the child during the initial months.  If the assistance enables women to suckle their children for a few months it would have a huge impact on the nutrition of children. 

I am curious to see how well the programme reaches poor women.  Given that the amount is considerable, there would be a lot of pressure on the selectors to distribute it to richer and often better connected families.  But I do not rule out the possibility that this reaches a good proportion of women who badly need such assistance.  I am eagerly looking forward to see good evaluations.

Apart from this, an ambulance is now being made available in every block with special attention to deliveries.  One ambulance per block is such a little measure, but is a fantastic begining.  This has the potential to impact maternal mortality that is unacceptably high in India.  This combined with increased allocations for Comprehensive Emergency Obstetric and Newborn Care (CEmONC) Centres is a welcome step for maternal and child health. 

Industry, Public Finance, Welfare & Other measures

It is good to see that Tamil Nadu manages to concentrate on social development without loosing sight of industrial development.  It was reassuring to see the rhetoric of the rooted politicians of Tamil Nadu and know that they have not fallen prey to growth fundamentalists.  At the same time, they have not gone the Kerala way in neglecting industrial development.  Madras is fast growing into a hub for automobile manufacturers.  Other important initiatives including one for semi-conductors is coming up.  Along with these, many measures of social welfare (which is different from initiatives mentioned above) have been made.  Given that I do not follow these sectors closely, I do not know how well these are formulated, or how far the allocations go.  But what I can say with confidence is that TN has managed a high rate of growth and reduction of poverty along with significant interventions in the field of health, education, child care, etc.

The budget has a detailed annexure on fiscal deficit, which is pegged at 2.3% of the State’s GDP.  The appendix to the speach is basically a medium term fiscal plan, which can be found here. It is a short and readable document.

Last word

Given the upbeat nature of the post, I cannot help ending it with a critique – if only to make it a little ‘more’ neutral.  While Dravidian politics seems to have had a good vision for social development, I find it sorely lacking in many other areas.  To take one major example, the rhetoric on water seems to be stuck in the early part of 20th century.  The finance minister, Prof. Anbazhagan argued that to solve the water problems of TN, it is “necessary to at least interlink the peninsular rivers”.  The idea of interlinking rivers is old and by now bankrupt.  It is economically, socially and ecologically costly – but the political rhetoric has just not kept pace with knowledge on this issue.  A fascination with learning water management from Australia (with massive farms) and Israel continues. While learning from there is welcome, we need to develop our own systems given our social and ecological conditions.  I wonder when politicis will catch up with this need. 

One welcome step though is the creation of Irrigated Agriculture Modernisation and Water Bodies Restoration and Management project.  This takes the welcome step of looking at water issues in an integrated fashion by bringing all major water using departments in one umbrella (irrigation, agriculture, horticulture, fisheries and animal husbandry, etc.).  I do not say this though without trepedition since the project is created under the umbrella of World Bank.  In my opinion, WB has been involved in the creation of some far reaching programmes in TN including TINP.  But these programmes took their shape with political initiatives that significantly reshaped the WB proposals.  While WB has useful international experience and knowledge, it is infested with fundamentalists of a strain whose solutions are based more on ideology than careful study and reason.

TN and the rest of India face many important problems of the day including water, employment, etc. for which this budget does not lay far reaching solutions.  I cannot see these large allocations without thinking of how much is going to be eaten away by corruption.  Initiatives on this have been sparing – nor surprisingly.  I leave it to others to discuss other doomsday stories on this budget…if possible I will follow them and link them from this site.  Visit again later.

 


About Vivek Srinivasan

I work with the Program on Liberation Technology at Stanford University. Before this, I worked with the Right to Food Campaign and other rights based campaigns in India. To learn more, click here.

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