Exclusive: What Maneka Gandhi told India’s finance minister about child welfare budget cuts

May 19, 2015

Narendra Modi faces growing resistance from political friends and foes over some of his federal spending cuts as he nears his one-year anniversary as India’s prime minister. The government recently cut funding for programmes such as drinking water and welfare for women and children, saying that states can make better decisions on what to spend in their own backyards.

One of Modi’s opponents is his cabinet minister Maneka Gandhi, India’s women and child development minister. She has written two letters to Finance Minister Arun Jaitley to complain about the government’s decision to cut her ministry’s budget in half.

In early March, Gandhi largely defended the government’s move publicly but said she will seek additional funds from the finance ministry.

But in her letters, while seeking more funds with detailed shortfall, Gandhi warns Jaitley of the social and political fallout from cutting spending. Reuters has seen the letters, and below are some of the points Gandhi raised:

 April 27, 2015 letter:

* Gandhi lists a shortfall of 109 billion rupees ($1.7 billion) for India’s flagship nutrition scheme ICDS, which provides free food and supplements to more than 100 million poor women and children. Overall, she mentions an additional requirement of 132.91 billion rupees ($2.1 billion) for her ministry.

* “The ministry is addressing the needs of two critical constituencies — women and children. These are important from social and political point of view. The (budget) reduction has sent wrong signals”

* “I have been informally told that if the central government share becomes much less than that of the state government, states would prefer to re-design schemes on their own.”

* “This may result in a situation where the focus is lost on critical programmes related to malnutrition of children, protection of children and supplementary nutrition for pregnant and lactating mothers.”

* “I am afraid to point out that political fallout of such a situation can be grave.”

March 5 letter:

* In this letter, Gandhi explains to Jaitley why programmes of her ministry are crucial for women and children. She also says that the government last year promised to address the existing lacunae and work towards creating a “malnutrition-free India”.

* To do that, Gandhi says her ministry designed a new National Nutritional Mission (NNM) programme and presented it to Modi in December 2014 with cost estimates of 280 billion rupees ($4.4 billion) over five years.

* There is concern that only 1 billion rupees ($16 million) have been allocated for NNM in the budget, she tells Jaitley.

(Editing by Robert MacMillan; Follow Aditya on Twitter @adityakalra and Robert @bobbymacReports  | This article is website-exclusive and cannot be reproduced without permission)

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