What a disappointment the Budget 2009 has been! Many CCS interns and team members set together to watch but there was nothing really to discuss at the end, just disappointment. I wrote a comment for Business Standard focusing mostly on education, however the printed version has left some lines/para out:

Despite the bold talk about innovations in governance and service delivery system, this Budget takes hardly a step in ‘walking the talk.’ In the areas of education and health particularly, this failure to think outside the box is simply disastrous for a young country. A wealth of new ideas like vouchers for education, health, and food security have been discussed, some of which have already been piloted either by the government or by think tanks.

Just as in social safety net areas, the Budget increased allocations for the existing or already announced schemes. For higher education, the outlays increased by Rs. 2,000 crore over the Interim Budget. It thoughtfully added an interest subsidy for loans and expanded the range of courses for which loans could be availed, including vocational studies. The minority education allocations increased from Rs 1000 crore last year to Rs 1740 crore. It gives pre- and post-matric scholarships and a new National Fellowship. The biggest challenge for the scholarship schemes has been that the government has failed to meet even its own previous targets. The National Means-Cum-Merit Scholarship of the previous year had allocations for one lakh students but only 33,000 have received it this year. There is an urgent need to budget for awareness programs and enrollment drives within these schemes.

There may be a silver lining in this non-innovative Budget: The Finance Ministry makes just broad money allocations but leaves the new ideas and the details to the line ministries! That one governance reform is indeed well achieved by this Budget! If Mr Mukherjee stays on this course for the term, he may have revolutionized, albeit rather unintentionally, the allocation of tasks across ministries. That would indeed be the great achievement of the FM.

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The opinions expressed in this essay are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of CCS.

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Parth Shah

Parth J Shah is founder president of Centre for Civil Society, a think tank that promotes choice and accountability across public and private sectors. He is co-founder and Director of Indian School of Public Policy. Parth’s research and advocacy work focuses on the themes of economic freedom, choice and competition in education, property rights approach to the environment and new public governance. He recently edited Liberalism in India.