02/02/2018, 11.50
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Indian Catholics on 2018 budget: positive steps for the poor and Dalits

by Nirmala Carvalho

The Minister of Finance proposes funds for semi-universal health insurance and for the development of rural areas. The health plan will cover 100 million poor families. Catholic leaders: "Vigilance over the actual distribution of money".

Mumbai (AsiaNews) - Positive steps for the poor and the Dalits, but it remains to be seen whether the reforms will actually be implemented.: This is the opinion of Indian Catholic leaders commenting to AsiaNews on the new 2018 budget presented by the Finance Minister Arun Jaitley. Yesterday, the representative of the Delhi government unveiled the measures for the current year, which focus in particular on support for rural poor areas and access to health care.

Fr. Axj Bosco SJ, coordinator of the United Front for Dalit Christian Rights (Ufdcr), welcomes "changes regarding the funding for the Scheduled tribes [disadvantaged ethnic groups, ed] and Scheduled castes [belonging to the caste previously discriminated, ed. ]. The budget for 2018 is expected to increase spending and around 50% will be used in joint projects ".

The activist priest, who is also a councillor of the National Council for Dalit Christians and representative for the Andhra Pradesh of the Forum for Religious for Justice and Peace, adds that "for various reasons [in the past] disadvantaged groups have not had access to the funds. They did not even know of the existence of programs for them, because the government machine does not take care of them. Two years ago, more than 30 billion rupees [over € 375 million, ed] were not spent. Last year, another 45 billion rupees [more than 562 million euros, ed] destined for the Scheduled castes were not used, as well as 21 billion rupees [262 million euros, ed] for the Scheduled tribes ".

The Jesuit also speaks of the project of the "Ekalavya" [residential school program for tribal groups, ed.]. "The purpose is to promote the ideology of the RSS [Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, Hindu nationalist paramilitary group, ed] Most of the existing Ekalavya Schools are in pathetic condition. There are not enough teachers and the teachers there, are not skilful enough to impart standard education. If only the Govt. sees that quality and committed teachers are appointed, that purpose of the schools is for the education of the tribals and not for promotion of RSS ideology, and that schools are monitored continuously, it would be a great service to the Scheduled tribes".

Frederick D'Souza, director of Caritas India, comments on the government's intention to expand health coverage [up to a maximum of 100 million poor families who do not have access to treatment, for a total of almost half a billion people , distributing around 7 thousand euros to a family - ed.). "At the moment - he says - health as a service is under terrible stress at the moment as the affordability and reaching the unreached is a serious issue. Often it’s seen the poor cannot afford the expensive treatment and the free service provided by the government is over stressed. The health insurance proposed in the budget is a good step to ensure health for the poor. But how it will be implemented especially how it will be reaching the poor is not clear and our experience suggests that often such schemes as much as good they are there are issues in making it working for the poor".

Regarding provisions for Dalits issues in the budget Fr Frederick said: "Dalits as a group do need positive affirmation action from the government as the community has been historically disadvantaged discriminated and marginalised. Again the question is how the benefits will reach the poorest Dalits ".

Fr Jothi SJ, director of Udayani, the Jesuit social arm in West Bengal, says "that apparently policies are good for the poor. Health is one of the most serious problems and many die in rural areas due to lack of access to treatments. But what worries us is that the budget forecasts say nothing about how the money will be distributed. There is a suspicion that the funds will only go to insurance companies, leaving sick people without treatment".

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