Writing an analysis of the Union Budget and its impact on Indian education every year for the past two decades has been an anguishing and frustrating — nevertheless necessary — obligation of your editor. For 20 years, we have been featuring post-Budget cover stories highlighting the low priority given by successive governments and finance ministers to developing the country’s abundant and high-potential human capital. Alas to no avail. When EducationWorld was launched 21 years ago, the Central government’s budgetary allocation for public education was equivalent to 0.5 percent of GDP. And despite continuous pressure exerted by this publication, several distinguished academics and economists and the high-powered T.S.R. Subramanian (2016) and Dr. K. Kasturirangan (2018) committees to increase it substantially so that the annual national (Centre plus states) expenditure on public education could rise to 6 percent of GDP — first recommended by the Kothari Commission way back in 1967 — in 2018-19 it aggregated to 0.43 percent of GDP, in the Covid pandemic disrupted year 2020-21 to 0.44 percent and is budgeted at 0.42 percent of GDP next year (2021-22).
The hard reality is that Central government has to take the lead and increase its annual public education outlay 5x for the 6 percent threshold to be crossed. Unfortunately for independent India’s national development effort that began in 1947, no Union finance minister at the Centre has ever allocated more than 1 percent of GDP for public education. Nor has any state government taken up the slack. Therefore national expenditure for public education has averaged a mere 3.25-3.50 percent per year for over seven decades. In the Union budget 2021-22 presented to parliament and the nation last month, the Centre’s allocation for education is Rs.93,224 crore, 6.13 percent lower than the Rs.99,312 crore budgeted for the current year ending March 31, 2021.
Admittedly with the economy ravaged by the Covid-19 pandemic, the government’s tax revenue has plummeted and budget expenditure needed to be focused on capital expenditure for infrastructure projects to resuscitate business and industry. Yet as is contended in our cover story of this issue, human capital development also needs to be urgently developed.
In the spring issue of EW, we highlight the continuous dog-in-the-manger policy-continuum of the Central and state governments that doesn’t provide adequately for public education and simultaneously discourage private educators from doing so to the detriment of the world’s most high-potential children.
Yet despite this disabling environment, not a few well-intentioned educators driven by the spirit of enlightened self-interest are stepping forward to educate, enable and skill the country’s short-changed children. Check out our Eye Witness feature for proof.