INDIAN TAXPAYERS¬†may have to shell out more. The Union government has announced plans for a universal health insurance scheme to provide minimum healthcare for everyone in the country. The Planning Commission‚Äôs expert panel has not yet recommended how the money would be collected but even a 1 percent levy would yield around Rs 9,000 crore for this year. This brings us to the more important question about the education cess, which has been in force for the past few years: How has it been spent? I am not against a cess to fund social schemes but it is important to monitor the monies, to check whether they have been adding to the morass of corruption.
The education cess on taxable income has been collected under two heads ‚ÄĒ primary education and higher education. The government began with the primary education cess in 2005 that has been credited into a non-lapsable fund called the Prarambhik Shiksha Kosh, which would be utilised for schemes like the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and the mid-day meal.
In 2007, the government introduced the higher education cess to fund its various ambitious initiatives to push the growth of higher education in the country. A part of that cess was to be diverted into setting up the National Higher Education Finance Corporation (NHEFC), to provide concessional loans to higher education institutions. It has been four years since the proposal was mooted.Then apparently the Planning Commission shot down the concept. The government seems to be dragging its feet on the proper implementation of the monies collected under the higher education cess. The state of stasis here reflects the limbo in which the government finds itself.
The money collected under the primary education cess goes into a non-lapsable fund that focusses only on the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and the mid-day meal. We are aware of the mismanagement that has come to characterise government schemes and their ineffective delivery mechanisms. Speaking of the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, the Department of School Education & Literacy outlines the aims on its website, which includes ‚Äúto provide useful and relevant elementary education for all children in the 6-14 age group by 2010‚ÄĚ. Other objectives include:
(i) All children in school, setting up of an Education Guarantee Centre, Alternative School and ‚ÄėBack-to-school‚Äô camp by 2003
(ii) All children complete five years of primary schooling by 2007