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Role of Fifteenth Finance Commission

Financing the Right to Education

An assessment of the resource gaps for fulfilling the right to education across Indian states presents a disconcerting picture. The gap between normative requirement and actual expenditure is particularly large in the poorer states, requiring not only a higher overall fiscal push, but one that would address the unequal positions of the states. Since equalisation is the primary mandate of the Finance Commission, it should address the inequalities in provision of elementary education, which is a merit good plus a core constitutional guarantee. To meet the special needs of the 16 focus states with the largest additional requirement vis-à-vis their revenue base, it is important that the Fifteenth Finance Commission responds with specific purpose grants of an adequate magnitude for elementary education.

The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, 2009 emerging from Article 21A of the Indian Constitution provides a legal framework and a social vision for education. It is a powerful tool that gives every child in the 6–14 year age group the right to education in a formal school that fulfils certain essential norms and standards (GoI 2009a). To what extent and how adequately the state fulfils this obligation depends crucially, inter alia, on the public expenditure on elementary education. The RTE Act lays down the duties of the central government “to prepare the estimates of capital and recurring expenditure for the implementation of the Act” (Chapter III, Clause 7). This is necessary such that a plan can be drawn up mapping the physical requirements to finances, and a sharing pattern worked out between the centre and states. The last estimate of financial requirements for universalisation goes back to 2009–10, around the time when the act came into being (GoI 2009b). Ever since, estimation of resource needs and medium-term planning has gone out of fashion. Incremental budgeting is the unstated norm.

The neglect of the resource adequacy issue derives its legitimacy from certain arguments that define the contours of the mainstream educational discourse. The official apathy is closely related to a conservative view where the public system is seen as weak, inefficient and unable to deliver. In the context of the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), the blame is placed on the lack of spending capacity by various state governments and other local institutions. Since absorptive capacity is limited, it is perceived that the resource envelop does not matter. In our understanding, this is not the right perspective. Underutilisation of resources is an issue of implementation that cannot be conflated with the need for resources. A good plan not only derives paths to achieve the desired target, but also sketches behavioural patterns that can lead the system to the set target (Chakravarty 1987). Implementation has to be a part of the plan. To help state governments become institutionally strong is part of the goal and not a precondition for central grants to be allocated.

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Updated On : 16th Sep, 2020

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