Mumbai (AsiaNews) - India's 2015-2016 Union (federal) budget "lacks direction," and "supports a neoliberal economic policy at the expense of the weaker segments of society, like children," said Lenin Raghuvanshi, director of the People's Vigilance Committee for Human Rights (PVCHR). Mr Raghuvanshi spoke to AsiaNews about the Annual Financial Statement tabled two days ago by Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley.
The financial bill is premised on 8-8.5 per cent growth (up from 7.4 per cent in the current fiscal year) through investments in infrastructure (US$ 11.3 billion) and "mega energy projects", whilst limiting the budget deficit.
"The budget presented by the government is tailored to the Make in India campaign," Raghuvanshi told AsiaNews. "The latter focuses heavily on infrastructure, renewable energy, agriculture and defence. However, in doing so it takes away funds from one sector in which they are indispensable: children and their development."
The PVCHR director noted some of the major budget cuts made by the government: a 29 per cent cut to children programmes over 2014/2015; a 55 per cent cut in the Ministry of Development's budget for women and children; a 22 per cent in children's health care; and a 25 per cent cut in children's education.
Other crucial programmes being axed are the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (-21 per cent), which is aimed at broadening access to universal primary education, and the Midday Meal (-30 per cent), which provides free lunch to improve children's nutrition.
Mr Raghuvanshi also noted that the plan to create 6,000 model schools at the local level to provide quality education for talented children in rural areas was cut by 99.92 per cent.
Last but not least, in a country where "At least 20.3 million children suffer from malnutrition, it is disheartening to see funds for the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS), which deals with the problem of malnutrition, cut by 54.19 per cent".
Some programmes however saw larger budget allocations, a 42.86 per cent increase for child labour, and a 36.55 per cent increase for madrassas (Islamic schools) and minority schools.
Despite this, for the human rights activist a major "question remains: how can we define 'developed' a country in which children are not taken into consideration?"