The 2017-18 Telangana Budget presented by Finance Minister Etela Rajender is refreshing. It speaks a different political idiom of welfare governance and people centrism, eloquently bearing the signature mark of Chief Minister KCR and his commitment to the mission of ‘Reinventing Telangana’.
KCR’s penchant for Bangaru Telangana, meaning a Welfare State, transcends the traditional social service spending format to that of a targeted transformation of the people; bridging the social gap between neglected and empowered. In fact, it is the solemn promise the Constitution made to establish a Welfare State, with the elaborate framework provided in the Directive Principles. The Budget stands up to the task. The singular, if not exclusive focus, is on Social Welfare. Community base, coming handy. This does not, however, undermine the focus on rural, infra, housing, urban, drinking, water, irrigation, IT and industry, agriculture and allied activities, with fiscal prudence. They are fully and steadfastly taken care.
With no elbow room available, State budgets usually tend to be either conventional or conservative. The act of balancing the figures restricts its scope to ongoing projects or projects that promise returns.The ‘percolative’ aspect of its spending is often undermined, with a cruel affect on social justice. KCR and his trusted lieutenant FM prefer to break away from such shackles and think afresh. KCR is conscious that social spending is different from social welfare and opts for the former, without giving up the latter. The welfare of the neglected occupies center stage in his scheme, as its Right.
An incisive study of the Budget reveals a new philosophy of ‘community –inclusive’ approach that aims to bring larger communities who today find themselves at the outer fringes of development. This is attempted by selective identification of these sections for empowerment, more than development. The nuance of such an approach is often stressed but seldom put to practice. The Budget does not, therefore, take consolation in the mere allocations, but looks more into the details of sub plans of action, which are under preparation by a Cabinet panel, with the help of experts and field activists. In its earnestness to reach out to these neglected sections, the Budget pitches on a new version of ‘most backward’ – a list of which is yet to be prepared. They are those who await recognition as legitimate partners of development. A corporation is planned with Rs 1,000 crore corpus.
Not only the Budget allocations represent the hard intent, but are also subjected to the periodic scrutiny of the House to ensure strict delivery. The core idea is to reach these people directly through specific time-bound schemes.
Nothing more needs to be added to FM’s firm assertion that “spending for the welfare of the people and the development of State is our Budget”. He says it is no Ballot Box budget. Of the 85 points made by the FM in his 47-page presentation, more than 50% of the space and content is devoted to explaining the new theme of this welfare approach, which media (ToI) screamed as “gravy trail (train)”. However, it should be remembered that it is a not gravy of soup but Rights of a forgotten lot.
What makes the exercise exciting is ‘the hidden compassion’ of KCR towards these sections, such as Anganwadis, GHMC sweepers, contract staff, outsourced staff, homeguards, casual labour, ill- paid staff, working as menials or any other in the category. KCR compared a few of them to God or God sent, with genuine respect; shed tears over their plight, expressed anguish over their long neglect, detested their working conditions. The Budget reflects them all. The recognition of human dignity along with realisation of responsibility is exciting.
The Budget tackles these social welfare schemes on five distinctive plains:
- Pay hike, better service conditions
- Community welfare schemes to occupational groups
- Special Development Fund to SCs and STs constitutes 28% of welfare spending
- Social Security and protection through Asara pensions, now covering the destitute and single woman, and increase in Kalyana Laxmi aid from Rs 50,001 to Rs 75,000
- Women and Child welfare scheme (health and nutrition) with every expectant mother getting Rs 12,000, besides a Rs 600/- KCR kit for the newborn. An extra Rs 1,000 is paid to girl child
In the new dispensation of community-based social welfare, sheep breeders, fishermen, barbars, washer men, Vishwakarmas, tailors, tappers and others are given a new deal. Thus BCs get Rs 5,070 crore, not to speak of the benefits of other schemes like rice subsidy, power, farm loan waiver, health facilities and education.
The sum total of the story is that social welfare not only gets a new thrust and strategy in the Budget, but occupies a pride of place with 60% allocation of developmental expenditure. The special development fund of SC/ST is a feather in the cap of welfare schemes. Gurukul schools and Mission Bhagiratha, though falling under social service, cannot but taken as a welfare measure. The residential character of Gurukuls takes care of the ‘accessibility’, ‘retention’ and ‘quality’ aspects of education. Added to it, Mission Kakatiya creates history of sorts.
The State achieves a double-digit growth, surpassing the Ccentral growth by reaching 13.1%, despite demonetisation. Industrial sector grew from 0.6% in 2013-14 to 7.5% in 2016-17. This, at a time when the Centre is still grappling with its own growth crisis in the field. These should be sufficient evidence of a significant revival of State’s economy since its formation. It is universally acknowledged that Telangana is the fastest growing State.
Development, national unity, terrorism, social welfare and justice defy party lines. The Budget is a sole, if not exclusive rendering of the last. Any criticism of it may, therefore, be misplaced. It is also imprudent to find fault with accepted figures such as GDSP, which are a work of great scholarship and national study.
(The author is a TRS MP in Rajya Sabha)