[Editorial] The Budget lacks the ‘power’ to transform services

electricity supply

Context

  • India’s Union Budget 2022-23 demonstrates a clear intent to prioritise investments in clean energy and sustainable development, in line with the country’s promises made at COP26 in Glasgow last year.

What the editorial is about?

  • Electricity and development sectors need a more integrated approach to achieve the vision set forth in instruments such as the Union Budget that guide policy implementation at other administrative levels.

Most probable and repeated topics of upsc prelims

A reduction in medical and public health spending

  • While the health sector witnessed a 16% increase in estimated Budget allocations from last year, medical and public health spending was reduced by 45% for 2022-23.
  • The education sector also witnessed an 11.86% increase in allocations.
  • Interestingly, despite the push for digital education, which now includes the e-Vidya program (to boost online learning), last year’s revised allocation saw a reduction of 35%
  • Despite these increases in estimates, health and education continue to share only about 2% each of budgetary allocations annually.
  • Budget estimates demonstrate intent, but the proof of the pudding lies in the actual expenditure which reiterates the need for greater attention to be paid to our health and education sectors.
  • Greater allocation of funds is welcome, even if marginally, but the aim of providing better health care gets stymied, in the absence of electricity and when power provisioning is not linked to desired outcomes.

The role of reliable energy

  • It is widely recognized that the availability of reliable electricity supply can improve the delivery of health and education services.
  • 74% of the targets of the Sustainable Development Goals are interlinked with universal access to reliable energy.
  • Despite this, 44% of schools and 25% of India’s health sub-centres and primary health centres remain unelectrified.
  • For the Government’s proposed energy transition to succeed, these critical facilities require energy access first. These statistics only refer to the presence or absence of an electricity connection.
  • Its reliability in terms of the number of hours that electricity is available steadily without any voltage fluctuations also plays a significant role in delivering services.
  • The lack of integration of electrification requirements in development sector policy documents may be partly due to a lack of information about electricity and development linkages, poor coordination mechanisms between the sectors and departments, and poor access to appropriate finance.
  • Even while electricity is considered, it is to the limited extent of being a one-time civil infrastructure activity rather than a continuous feature necessary for the day-to-day operations of these services.

Multiple policies to achieve the larger sectoral objectives

  • The integration of electrification need not only be at the level of a single policy. Sometimes, multiple policies can complement each other to achieve the larger sectoral objectives.
  • To successfully integrate electricity provisioning and maintenance, policy frameworks should include innovative coordination and financing mechanisms.
  • These mechanisms, while developing clear compliance mandates, must also allow sufficient room for flexibility to respond to local contexts.
  • Such flexibility can be embedded in funds (such as untied funds) to provide local decision-makers with some authority to mitigate policy implementation barriers.
  • A successful policy outcome might be dependent on several invisible aspects that do not get the attention and funding necessary to aid in successful policy delivery. Electricity is one of them.

As a prerequisite to qualify for benefits

  • Many development policies that have objectives to improve health and education services require facilities to have access to reliable electricity as a prerequisite to qualify for benefits.
  • Such requirements result in facilities and schools that are already deprived of electricity continuing to be excluded from other assistance.
  • Providing reliable electricity for health centres and schools should be the responsibility of centralized decision-making entities at the State or national level.
  • Individual facilities should not be burdened with the responsibility to meet the eligibility criteria for policies or programmes.
  • It must also be noted that integrative policies are useful but insufficient to achieve intended developmental outcomes.
  • For policies to become transformative, instruments that operationalize them must be in place.
  • This is when budgetary allocations, institutional structures, finance, information and coordination mechanisms come into play.
  • Allocation of funds is a must to set up a robust data governance mechanism as it is critical for integrative action and evidence-based policymaking.
  • However, as India has witnessed with other cross-sectoral and centralized statistical, planning, and implementation data governance, diverse contexts must support oversight mechanisms that ensure data credibility.

Need of the hour

  • Finance is largely unavailable to ensure reliable electricity supply to schools and health facilities.
  • Some directives, such as those governing the use of untied funds, need to be more flexible in allowing these facilities to prioritize providing reliable and sustainable electricity.
  • The provisioning of reliable electricity, in turn, improves the delivery of health and educational services.

Conclusion

  • Departmental silos in public administration have resulted in linkage gaps between critical “supply” departments (such as electricity and water) and “demand-generating departments” (such as health and education).
  • This gap is accentuated when coordination mandates are not met with sustained finance to support human resources and common activities.
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x