28th February 2011

The AIDWA is disappointed by the general policy direction of the budget which has placed double digit growth as a priority over addressing the distress and problems of the common people. The Goddess of Lakshmi has been invoked by the Finance Minister (!), but the Finance Minister has been unwilling to allocate the necessary resources to help the ordinary women of this country. The last year has seen an alarming increase in food prices and unemployment rates across the board. Instead of adopting policy measures to provide support to these sections, the budget will only accentuate the inflationary trend. As always, women will bear the brunt of the negative consequences which are likely to be unleashed by this budget. The main areas of concern affecting women are the following:

Food Security:  The worst betrayal is on the food security front. Not only has the food subsidy been reduced by 27 crores, the government also aims to start a system of cash transfers for BPL families. Experience with cash transfers in the past has shown that it will not reach the neediest people. Rather it will make them more and more dependent on the open market for their daily requirements, and lead to an increase in prices. Middle class households would be badly hit by this policy. The demand of the women’s movement for universalisation and strengthening of PDS has been totally ignored. The refusal to budget for a universal National Food Security Act is the worst blow for all women. The National Nutrition Mission which is meant to provide a solution to problems of malnutrition is woefully under funded at Rs. 110 Crores.

Employment: Job-loss growth continues to be the mantra of the Government. The budget for MGNREGA remains stagnant at 40,000 crores. This would actually amount to contraction of the scheme, and less person days of work. With no increase in outlay, the Finance Minister has announced that the wages under the scheme will increase in relation to the agricultural consumer price index! The budget for the rural self-employment scheme, SGSY has also come down by Rs. 28 Crores. The demands of the urban poor have been ignored and the much awaited urban employment guarantee scheme has not been announced.

Credit and MFIs:  The Government has callously thrown women in the micro finance sector to the mercy of the MFIs, which have been exploiting and harassing women. Instead of curtailing lending to the MFIs and expanding direct lending to women, MFIs continue to be in the priority sector with an equity fund of Rs. 100 Crore. the At the same time a Women’s Empowerment SHG fund has been set up with Rs. 500 Crore which is going to the corpus of the Rashtriya Mahila Kosh. The government’s intent of restructuring the RMK to a non-banking financial company mode will destroy the little gains that the women have made in the SHG sector. The demand of the women’s movement to provide loans to SHGs at 4 % has once again been ignored.

ICDS and Anganwadi Workers: After a long struggle the wages of the Anganwadi workers and helpers have been increased, but this does not even bring them on par with accepted minimum wages. The allocation for the ICDS scheme is inadequate to meet the requirements of a universal ICDS system as mandated by the Supreme Court.
Health: The requirement of Rs. 50,000 Crore by the National Rural Health Mission has been belied by the paltry allocation of Rs. 25,000 crores, which does not amount to even 3 % of the budget.  The provision for greater coverage of health insurance, especially of the unorganized sector workers feeds more into the private insurance industry. There is no mention of the ASHA workers and their demand for a decent wage. .

Gender issues The allocations for women’s welfare is a miniscule part of the overall budget outlays. The allocation for working women’s hostels has actually declined from Rs. 13.48 to 8.97 crores, and the allocations for crèches have reduced from Rs. 99.94 to 76.54 crores. This shows that the government is oblivious to the needs of working women, most of who work in the informal sector. There is no increase in the budget for schemes that combat trafficking. Many of the schemes are selective and targeted like the Indira Gandhi Matrutva Sahyog Yojana that is to be implemented in 52 districts and linked to many conditionalities. Similarly the ambitious SABLA scheme for adolescent girls is only to be implemented in 200 districts.

The Government has been miserly in its allocation for women in the sports sector, and for those with disabilities, revealing its neglect of these sections.

Education: Though there appears to be an overall increase in the education budget, this has ignored the legitimate needs of girls’ education. The SUCCESS scheme for secondary education for girl children has been shortchanged and its allocation has declined from Rs. 75 to 46 Crore. One wonders if the government is sincere in implementing the promise of ‘Education as a Fundamental Right’ by ignoring the education of girls. There is no focus on the educational needs of tribal girls either.

The budget fails to address the gross inequalities, and the misery of the poor, who have been badly affected by the neoliberal policies. Women from the vulnerable sections have been betrayed once again by the current budget, exposing the dubious sloganeering of “inclusive growth” that the UPA-2 Government has been propounding ceaselessly.