By : Ashok Handoo :The Union Budget for 2009-10 clearly has three focus areas-Infrastructure, Agriculture and Weaker Sections the country. It is a massive effort to attend to the basics of the country’s economy with the highest ever outlay of well over Rs. 10,20,000 crore. The plan expenditure itself has been raised by Rs.40,000 crore.The Budget is a reminder for the people of this country that there is another India than we know of – weaker sections, millions of whom live on a daily wage of a few rupees a day and 45 percent of our children who suffer from malnutrition. It is in this context that the Social Sector assumes importance in the budget proposals.The strongest push has been given to the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, popularly known as NREGA, for which the outlay has been raised to Rs.39,100 crore, an increase of an impressive 144 percent. The scheme, launched in 2006, aims at providing guaranteed employment to rural poor and simultaneously address the chronic causes of poverty like, drought, deforestation, soil erosion, through sustainable development. The daily wage under the scheme will now be raised to Rs. 100. About 4.47 crore households have been provided employment in the last financial year under it.Particular attention has been given to the progress of different sections of the society- the women, the youth, the students, dalits, minorities, the people below the poverty line etc. This involves the development of various sectors, like health, education etc.The National Rural Health Mission will thus get an additional Rs. 2000 crore over and above the Rs. 1270 crore provided in the interim budget. A health insurance scheme will be put in place for all the poor people in the country.In the field of higher education, Rs.21,000 crore have been provided for the Indian Institutes of Technology and the National Institutes of Technology. Of this, Rs.450 crore will be spent on setting up new IIT’s and NIT’s. Every state will have at least one central university. For the first time Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) will get a grant of Rs. 90 crore to spread distance education. Employment exchanges will be modernized with public private sector participation. A job seeker can now register on line from anywhere, with the help of a national web portal.For the minorities the allotment of funds has been raised by 74% to Rs. 1700 crore. The Aligarh Muslim University will have two new campuses in West Bengal and Kerala. The allocation for the Ministry of Minority Affairs has been raised by 74 percent to Rs.174 crore. New schemes of National Fellowship for students from the minority community will be also launched.For women a National Mission for female literacy will be launched with the aim of reducing the current level of female ill-literacy to half, in the next three years. The corpus for women’s self help groups will be raised from Rs.100 to Rs. 500 crore as employment generation is the stepping stone towards women empowerment. At least 50 % of all rural women will be enrolled as members of these self help groups over the next five years and linked to various banks.A new scheme Pradhan Mantri Adarsh Gram Yojana will be launched this year on a pilot basis for integrated development of 1000 villages with above 50 percent of Scheduled Cast population.All BPL families will be brought under Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana. The allocation for the scheme has been increased by 40 percent. .To empower the weaker sections, the budget proposes a higher allocation of Rs.500 crore. Funds have also been provided for social security schemes for workers of the unorganized sector, like weavers, fishermen, leather and handicraft workers and plantation labour.The Indira Awas Yojana allocation has been raised by 63 percent to ensure housing for the rural population living below the poverty line. A provision of Rs. 2,000 crore has also been made for the National Housing Bank. The Pradhanmantri Gram Sadak Yojana allocation has been raised by 59 per cent. One lakh housing units will also be constructed for the paramilitary force personnel also.No less important is the proposed National Food Security Act which will legally entitle every family living below the poverty line in rural and urban areas to 25 kilos of rice or wheat per month at Rs. 3 a kilo. The bill will soon be put on the net for public debate and consultations.In short, it is a massive effort for ‘inclusive development’ with Bharat Nirman schemes getting an enhanced allocation of 45 percent.Besides other measures for farmers, the extension of debt waiver scheme up to the end of this year due to delayed monsoon, raising the target for agricultural credit by a massive Rs.38,000 crore to Rs.3,25,000 crore and a subsidy of 1 percent on interest rate on loans to farmers are all apart of the social security net. Similarly, a special fund of Rs. 4000 crore to support the micro small and medium enterprises is also meant to provide a helping hand to the exporters who have suffered on account of global recession.The Budget commits that all Integrated Child Development Services will be extended to every child under the age of six by March 2012.The budget proposals will go a long way to speed up growth and reduce poverty in the country. As the Prime Minister put it “the first challenge is to revert the economy back to high GDP growth rate of 9 percent per annum at the earliest, the second challenge is to deepen and broaden the agenda for inclusive development.”Clearly, there is a growing realization that in the new dynamics of India, social sector and infrastructure occupy an important place. No longer can growth be for the minority. It has to be for the masses. The country has to grow across the board. One cannot have a country where some are rich and others poor. The need to help weaker sections, the disadvantaged, the disabled and the discriminated against has to be the focus of our planning and the two budgets are a clear road map in this direction.