Budget 2021 was placed under an unprecedented circumstances. As we are going through a deadly pandemic and India’s economic situation is dismal as struggles with the recession, the whole country was looking forward to hear from finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman words that might bring relief to the lives of common people.
Persons with disabilities, as members of this society, were also expecting a lot from budget 2021. Disabled people were faring not too well in the “normal” situation, and the “new normal” brought in many more challenges in their lives, affecting their access to resources, their mobility, etc. The pandemic has hit the disabled population worse, just like it did other marginalised sections, and for the same reason, the disability sector’s expectations of reparations were manifolds.
For many years, the disability groups were demanding for the amount of disability pension to be raised, this year many from the community were expecting unemployment allowances to be introduced for persons with disabilities who lost their jobs due to the pandemic.
However, the budget that was presented on February 1 brought in disappointment. Even though Budget 2021 made tall claims of inclusive development as an aim as well as one of its six pillars, its apathy towards the community of people with disability showed in how the budget for Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities (DEPwD) was slashed from INR 1325.39 crores to INR 1171.76 crores. Moreover, the finance minister deducted the allocations for different schemes pertaining to the disabled community in Budget 2021. Very strangely, a flagship programme launched by Narendra Modi government with much advertisements in 2015, the Accessible India campaign also had no mention in the budget. How India can become accessible for all, without proper acknowledgment, let alone financial allocations, remain a mystery.
There had been attempts to repeal the National Trust Act a few months ago. After protests from the disability community, this was stopped. However, allocations for NTA were reduced from INR 39.50 to INR 30.00 crore in Budget 2021. National Trust works for support of persons with autism, cerebral palsy, intellectual disabilities and multiple disabilities and runs a health insurance scheme – slashing allocations for health scheme of these people during a raging pandemic is nothing less than cruel.
Allocations to the National Programme for Prevention of Blindness have also been reduced by nearly 50 per cent from INR 20 to INR 10.50 crores as compared to last year. Grant-in-aid to state governments have also been reduced substantially. It is important to remember here that most of the special schools depend partially on the grant-in-aid given by the government. Many of them faced severe financial problems as personal donations also dried up due to the pandemic.
Similar cuts were seen in other schemes in Budget 2021. “Scheme for Implementation for Persons with Disabilities Act” saw a decrease in allocation from INR 251.50 to INR 209.77 crores. Whether the finance ministry is aware that Persons with Disabilities Act is now replaced by Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act also raises question. National Handicapped Finance and Development Corporation (NHFDC) works towards providing loans to small businesses set up by disabled people. This year, budgetary support to the NHFDC has been atrociously reduced from INR 41 crore provisioned in the 2019-20 budget to a meager INR 0.01 crore. Since job market is drying up, more disabled people might want to start small businesses and to lower this allocation means they will have a much lesser chance at getting loans and become “Atmanirbhar” financially. Disability pension remains the same in Budget 2021, even though expenditure is increasing manifolds.
Another remarkable lapse noticed in this budget is how there’s no increase in the allocations to National Mental Health Programme (NMHP). NHPC is a flagship programme of central Government that supports mental health services. It comprises of DMHP or district mental health programmes that focus on community-based mental health services throughout India. Uncertainties during Covid pandemic, lockdowns, job losses, sudden shift to online mode of studies and work, everything had a direct effect on mental health of people in India. Suicides cases increased and mental health issues were reported more commonly. Expectations that at least this section will get more attention from the Government was not at all met up. Slight increase in the budget of National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences, Bengaluru and the Lokpriya Gopinath Bordoloi Regional Institute of Mental Health, Tezpur does not bring much cheer in this front as NMHP, which has more coverage geographically, allocations remain INR 40 crores.
Although we discussed disability-specific budgetary allocations in this article, it is obvious that disabled people do not live outside the general society and will be adversely affected because of many other areas of Budget 2021. Not to mention the decrease in allocation for school education. It is important to remember here that this is the first time in recent years that the education budget was slashed. The maximum decrease is seen in Samagra Shiksha scheme which is directly responsible for implementation of the Right to Education Act. Government policy clearly indicates merging of schools, deduction in the number of scholarships – these will result in more drop-outs. Needless to say, disabled students will be affected the most. Budget 2021 clearly showed that Government of India does not believe in inclusion of all and “Sab Ka Sath Sab Ka Vikas” remains elusive to most marginalised groups in the country.
Featured image source: Onmanorama