Bengaluru, Delhi and Mumbai: In the interim budget before the 2024 General Elections, Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said, “Development programmes, in the last ten years, have targeted each and every household and individual, through ‘housing for all’, ‘har ghar jal’, electricity for all, cooking gas for all, bank accounts and financial services for all, in record time.”

We looked at these programmes and found that 13% houses approved under the rural housing scheme are yet to be completed, 26% households identified for tap-water connections are yet to be connected, more than 100 million households have received a cooking gas connection, but 10% took no refills, and 11% took only one refill a year. Over 516 million bank accounts were opened under the Jan Dhan Yojana.

Further, the allocation for the rural jobs programme is insufficient, experts say. And while the finance minister called the government’s ‘saturation approach’ the true and comprehensive achievement of social justice, the three-year delay in conducting a national population census is excluding many of India’s poorest from its public distribution of foodgrain, experts say.

13% homes under rural housing scheme yet to be completed

The government is close to the target of providing 30 million houses under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (Grameen) is nearly complete, the finance minister announced, adding that 20 million additional houses will be taken up in the next five years. In addition, the government will launch a new scheme to help deserving sections of the middle class “living in rented houses, or slums, or chawls and unauthorised colonies” to buy or build their own houses.

About 29.4 million houses were sanctioned under the scheme, of which 25.5 million houses were completed, as of February 1, 2024, as per the PMAY Gramin dashboard. The scheme was launched in 2015-16 with the target of providing housing for all by 2022. The deadline was later extended to March 2024.

This year, the government allocated Rs 1.77 lakh crore for PMAY Gramin, an increase of 3.8% over revised estimates for 2023-24.

26% targeted households do not have a tap connection

This year, the Union government allocated Rs 70,163 crore, up 0.2% from Rs 70,000 crore last year. As on February 1, 2024, 142.2 million households have received tap water connections, as per the Jal Jeevan Mission dashboard. This leaves 26.1% of households without tap water connections. During the launch of the scheme in 2019, 16% of households had tap water connections translating to 32.3 million households.

Launched on August 15, 2019 by the Union government, the Jal Jeevan Mission (JJM) is a flagship scheme aimed at providing water supply to every rural household through household tap connections with a minimum capacity of 55 litres per capita, per day by 2024. Implemented by the Department of Drinking Water and Sanitation under the Ministry of Jal Shakti, the mission focuses on providing tap connections to 194 million rural households and village institutions.

India's water budget, larger than that of other South Asian countries, is projected to surpass 3% of the estimated gross domestic product (GDP) in 2030 for sustainable water management, IndiaSpend reported in January 2021. Despite improvements in the provision of clean water and sanitation, experts emphasised to IndiaSpend that additional investments are crucial, especially in protecting water resources through measures like groundwater recharge, which requires more than conventional pipes-and-taps infrastructure.

516 million bank accounts were opened

Launched in August 2014, the Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana (PMJDY) aimed to provide universal banking services to every unbanked household, with a subsequent shift in focus beyond August 14, 2018, towards opening accounts for every unbanked adult.

As of January 24, 2024, 516 million bank accounts have been opened, according to the Jan Dhan website, of which 55% (286 million accounts) belong to women. PMJDY initially aimed for 75 million bank account openings within four years; this target was surpassed within months of the scheme's launch.

However, in just over two years, 260 million accounts were opened, despite persistent challenges such as account dormancy and uneven last-mile delivery, IndiaSpend reported in June 2020.

11% cooking gas beneficiaries took only one refill last year, 10% took none

The Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana was launched by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2016 with a target of providing 50 million liquefied petroleum gas connections to households below the poverty line. This target was later revised to 80 million. More than 100 million connections were provided under the scheme, as of January 31, 2024.

While the cost of the cylinder and first refill is covered under it, the subsidy programme run by the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas does not cover the cost of refill, as we reported in 2023.

However, 9.6% of beneficiaries took no LPG cylinder refills, 11.3% took only one refill and 56.5% took four or fewer refills in 2021-22, according to data provided in the Lok Sabha in July 2022 and data from a response given in the Rajya Sabha on August 1, 2022, as reported in February 2023. A typical household using only LPG for cooking, whether in urban or rural India, would need at least seven cylinders a year to meet all its cooking energy needs, a 2020 study by the Council on Energy, Environment and Water, a Delhi-based think tank, had found.

Low allocation to rural jobs scheme, experts say

The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee scheme (MGNREGS) or the rural jobs programme which has 144 million active workers was allocated Rs 86,000 crore ($10.4 billion) for 2024-25, which is equal to the revised estimates for 2023.

The programme became a lifeline for millions of rural poor during the pandemic-induced lockdowns in 2020 and 2021, during which time the work demand was at its highest ever.

Despite the high demand, the allocation for the scheme was slashed last year to Rs 60,000 crore, 18% lower than allocations for 2022-23, and one-third lower than the revised estimates. While there is an increase in the 2024 interim budget for the scheme, it remains 4% lower than the revised estimate (Rs 89,400 crore) of 2022.

“In this financial year, even after the revised estimate, all funds are exhausted. So we are staring at the new financial year starting with pending arrears of at least Rs 20,000 crore,” said economist Rajendran Narayanan. “So effectively, the new year's allocation is going to be Rs 66,000 crore.”

With this amount, if all the 56 million households need work, then each household will at most get 20 days of work in the year, he added.

Many poor Indians excluded from free foodgrain due to delayed census

During her budget speech, Sitharaman said, “The saturation approach of covering all eligible people is the true and comprehensive achievement of social justice.”

But it is unlikely that coverage is saturated due to the use of data that are out of date. The Public Distribution System (PDS) leaves more than 100 million people excluded from its reach because the Union government uses data from the 2011 Census, already 12 years out of date, to calculate state-wise PDS coverage, according to a 2020 analysis by Jean Drèze, Reetika Khera and Meghana Mungikar.

The decadal Census has been delayed now by three years. The government told Parliament in December 2023, that “due to [the] outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic, the Census 2021 and the related field activities have been postponed.” This delay is impacting government schemes and programmes, and results in unreliable estimates from other surveys on consumption, health and employment, which depend on census data to determine policy and welfare measures, IndiaSpend reported in June 2022.

In November 2023, the Union government extended the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY)--a scheme that provides free foodgrains to beneficiaries under the National Food Security Act 2013 (NFSA)--for a period of five years until December 31, 2028, IndiaSpend reported.

Under the NFSA, the government provides more than 800 million people with subsidised food grains like rice, wheat, or coarse cereal. In December 2022, the Union government decided to integrate it with PMGKAY, which was implemented in 2020 following the Covid-19 pandemic.

At nearly Rs 2.1 lakh crore, the food subsidy for 2024 is 4% more than last year’s budget allocation, but 3% lower than the revised estimates. The PMGKAY is expected to cost Rs 11.8 lakh crore ($142 billion) for the five-year period ending 2028.

Healthcare cover for frontline health workers a welcome move

Healthcare cover under the Ayushman Bharat scheme will now be extended to all Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHA), anganwadi workers and helpers, the finance minister announced in her budget speech.

At present, the eligibility criteria for Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana, the national public health insurance scheme which is part of Ayushman Bharat, were based on the socio economic caste census.

“This is a welcome move by the government, because now the ASHA workers and Anganwadi workers and helpers will be targeted as a group,” said Anup Karan, a health economist with the Public Health Foundation of India.

An amount of Rs 7,500 crore was allocated for PMJAY in the interim budget, an increase of 8.9% compared to revised estimates 2023-24. There are 308.94 million users of the scheme at present, which is roughly 60% of the target of covering 500 million beneficiaries.

The scheme, which provides an insurance cover of Rs 5 lakh to each eligible family in a year, is applicable to all the states in the country except West Bengal, Odisha and Delhi.

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