The Andhra Pradesh government is all set to launch the Amma Vodi scheme, one of its major campaign promises and part of the Navaratnalu, on January 9. Under Amma Vodi (which translates to ‘Mother’s Lap’), mothers or guardians of school-going children will receive an annual financial assistance of Rs 15,000 per year. The scheme is intended to support low-income families in educating their children, and to increase enrolment and attendance of students.
White ration card holders, who fall under the Below Poverty Line, are eligible for the assistance, subject to a few more criteria related to their economic status.
The widely publicised and anticipated scheme, which is expected to benefit nearly 42 lakh families, was allocated a sum of around Rs 6,455 crore in the state budget for 2019-20. This was nearly 20 percent of the total education budget of Rs 32,618 crore. With the launch soon approaching, and the funds expected to be deposited to the beneficiaries’ accounts, the government has diverted funds amounting to nearly Rs 6,110 crore from various welfare departments towards the implementation of the ‘Jagananna Amma Vodi’ scheme.
On Saturday, multiple government orders were issued, sanctioning funds worth Rs 568 crore from the Backward Classes department meant for Kapu welfare schemes, Rs 3,432 crore from funds meant for other backward classes, Rs 1,271 crore from the Social Welfare department from funds meant to be used for Scheduled Castes, Rs 395 crore from the Tribal Welfare Department and Rs 442 crore from the Minority Welfare Department.
The opposition has raised concerns over the diversion of funds meant for welfare and development programs specific to these communities. Nara Lokesh, General Secretary of the Telugu Desam Party and son of former Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu, has questioned the move, accusing the Jagan Mohan Reddy government of robbing marginalised communities of welfare funds for the much-publicised Amma Vodi.
While it could be argued that the funds are most likely to benefit children and families from the same communities, observers are questioning the impact of the move on infrastructure and livelihood programs. E Venkatesu, a political analyst from the University of Hyderabad, says that using the social welfare funds, from the SC ST Sub Plan, for Amma Vodi may be a better use of the resources than past instances, when they have been diverted towards other civic needs such as construction of canals, parks etc. “At least through Amma Vodi, the funds will benefit SC and ST children. But unlike the SC ST Sub Plan, the BC and Minority welfare funds tend to not be in proportion to the population of these communities. Diverting the budget which is already inadequate towards Amma Vodi might hamper works on infrastructure and livelihood programs like capacity building and other activities,” Venkatesu says.
Academic and political analyst Suresh Kumar Digumarthi, who teaches at the GITAM University's Hyderabad Campus, also says that the move could prove discriminatory towards the BC, SC, ST and minority communities as the government diverts their welfare funds towards flagship schemes to attract voters. “The marginalized sections like BC, SC, ST are as important as mothers and children and education. Diversion of these funds to any other programs, even if they’re well-meaning and impactful, can be understood as further marginalization of these communities,” he says.
At a time when the state is burdened by a major financial crisis, the YSRCP government would have to mobilise resources at any cost in order to fulfil the promises made during the election campaign, Venkatesu says. “Amma Vodi was one of the important promises made as part of the Navaratnalu, the nine major promises made during the election campaign, apart from prohibition and pension hike. These are the promises which led to such a massive mandate for the party, and one of the major factors in securing the votes of women from low-income families. It is inevitable for the government to implement these schemes to avoid facing serious problems in the future,” he says. In these circumstances, the government is forced to divert any of the limited resources possible to fulfill these promises, he adds.
It has been the norm for political parties in power to attract voters with new schemes by diverting and managing funds, says Suresh. “In this context, grants for BC, SC, ST communities have always been used for political mileage without fulfilling the desired goals,” he says.
Amma Vodi is just one of multiple reforms in school education introduced by the government, apart from the introduction of English medium, and the Nadu-Nedu scheme which seeks to develop infrastructure and facilities in around 45,000 schools, at a cost of nearly Rs 12,000 crore. While the English medium move has received opposition from multiple quarters, overall, these reforms are anticipated to bring about a major change in school education in the state.
The Amma Vodi scheme has also been extended to students of Intermediate, the state board equivalent of class 11 and 12, and will also cover orphaned children studying in voluntary organisations. A regulation requiring a minimum attendance of 75 percent was also recently waived for the first year of implementation.
The scheme is not limited to government schools, and applies to students from government and private schools and junior colleges and residential institutes. While this aspect has raised concerns over parents moving their children away from government schools and favouring private ones, the government has claimed that student enrolment has increased by 30 per cent in the current academic year. While lakhs of parents are banking on the scheme to provide a comfortable education to their children, the government will have to sustain the promise at an annual cost of about Rs 6,500 crore in the coming years.