Budget must focus on rural internet access & child nutrition, say experts, Health News, ET HealthWorld

BENGALURU: With the pandemic hitting large sections of society and revealing a digital divide, experts have suggested that this year’s Union Budget should focus on the basics — health, child nutrition and internet connectivity in remote locations.

They say children in both urban and rural parts were cut off from online education because of the digital divide. School closure, financial hardship and other factors led to more instances of child marriage and labour and trafficking.

These were among the many issues discussed by panellists during the online seminar ‘Budget 2021: Managing the Pandemic, Public and Policies’.

The event was organised by the Kautilya School of Public Policy, Hyderabad, this week. Prateek Kanwal, co-founder of the organisation, said that the country had made several gains in terms of gross enrolment ratio (GER) in the past two decades, but the pandemic had severely affected the progress. Girls have been particularly hit hard.

“Where do you put the money in a year where there are severe shortfalls? I say we must go back to the basics. Internet connectivity should be available in the last corner of villages and education should be delivered at a scale,” he said, adding that the break in midday meals had resulted in nutrition issues among children.

Sridhar Pabbisetty, the founding director of the Kautilya School of Public Policy, said that the government must support debt-ridden students.

“Through NEP [National Education Policy], the government intends to double the GER in higher education. It is keen on pushing 3 crore people into higher education. We need to see how the government can make education affordable for all of them,” he said.

The panellists also discussed the need for a decentralised approach by the Union government, greater focus on health, employment generation and creation of a social safety net for the vulnerable. They said that this was not a year for drastic and deep reforms, but relief and repair.

Yamini Aiyer, the president of the Center for Policy Research, said that better public finance management could solve the issues. She described unspent balances and lag in reporting them as huge problems.

“As per a CAG estimate, there is Rs 1.7 lakh crore balance floating in bank accounts across the country. To address the fiscal deficit, the government should unlock the unspent allocations and take expenditure management seriously,” she added.

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