2nd Feb. 2006

The Hon. Finance Minister,
Government of India
New Delhi 110 001

Dear Shri Chidambaram ji,

We represent National Women’s Organizations that have been conducting struggles of women for their just rights and working consistently, and jointly, on gender issues for many years. At the outset, we would like to once again bring to your notice the need to extend the practice of having pre-budget consultations with different sections to women’s organizations, and representatives of women, to enhance the gender component of the national budget. This is essential to do justice to the women of this country who, as managers of the family budget, and as members of the workforce, are directly impacted by budgetary decisions.
As you prepare the budget for the coming financial year, we request you to kindly take into consideration our following concerns.
Guaranteeing Work and Safeguarding Food Security:

  • The continuing suicides of farmers, which incidentally include a number of women, point to a serious crisis in the rural sector. Women who make up at least 36% of cultivators and 44% of agricultural workers in the country are being affected in a number of ways, especially in terms of a huge decline in work days and growing food insecurity.
  • Therefore this budget must first of all, reinforce the outlays on public investment in rural infrastructure and provide for remunerative minimum support prices, concessional rural credit and subsidized agricultural inputs.
  • Secondly, we urge the UPA government to uphold the basic commitments made in the Common Minimum Programme and honour its promise to strengthen the Public Distribution System. The move to reduce food subsidies by Rs 4500 crores by way of the proposed cut in quotas for BPL and Antyodaya families and the increase in prices for APL families will further jeopardize the food security of the poorest sections of the population and the already precarious nutritional status of women.
  • There is rising evidence of growing malnourishment amongst substantial sections of our population across the country, which points to the abject failure of the Targeted PDS. There is an urgent need to return to the universal PDS. Considering the steep rise in the prices of essential commodities such as sugar, oil, pulses, etc, there is also a need to increase the number of items available in fair price shops. Procurement from peasants at the MSP is a cornerstone of the PDS and must be strengthened. Therefore, the   budget allocation for the PDS should be substantially increased.
  • The budget should provide for effective implementation of the NREGA in the 200 districts that have been notified with guaranteed equal and minimum wage rates. Earlier rural development programmes have not been able to implement the 40% reservation for women. The budget should correct this injustice, and ensure that monitoring arrangements are put in place so that their entitlement to one-third of the workdays generated from the NREGA can be realized.
  • Schemes for social security for workers in the unorganized sector should form part of the budget. A firm commitment to provide legal protection for workers in this sector should be made by allocating adequate funds for setting up Welfare Boards for them.
  • There should be funds clearly earmarked for training, skill development, credit inputs, marketing linkages with a firm budgetary commitment to support self-employed women the needs of women entrepreneurs There must be special schemes to support those employed in traditional industries such as handloom weaving, etc.
  • Considering the phenomenal growth in the number of Self-Help Groups, there should be a provision for accessing credit at concessional rates.
  • The earlier practice of employing a family member of a deceased government or semi-government employee on compassionate grounds should be renewed.


Health and Education:

  • In education, the present drive towards privatization has been particularly detrimental for the girl child. This budget must actualize the CMP commitment to allocate 6% of the GDP for education. It is absolutely essential to make available the resources needed to ensure free and compulsory education for all children upto the +2 level. Special needs for girl students such as the provision of toilets in schools (with water supply) should also be taken care of.
  • Women’s health particularly primary health care at all stages of their life should be strengthened as part of State responsibility to its citizens. While the government has announced the introduction of NRHM for strengthening public health delivery systems, it is yet to take off due to lack of funds. The budget must make specific allocations. The Public Health budget should include a massive provisioning for safe drinking water and good sanitation facilities in all habitations. As with education, at least 2.5 % of the GDP should be spent on public health.
  • Despite its contribution to reducing infant and maternal mortality and child malnourishment in the country, the Integrated Child Development Services remains a scheme with no permanent status. In order to acknowledge its impact and improve its functioning, the ICDS should be institutionalized, and the Anganwadi worker and helper should find their rightful place as employees and the government must make the necessary financial provision. To fulfil the assurance made in the previous year’s budget that every hamlet would have an Anganwadi center, the allocation of resources needs to be doubled. 

Widow Pensions:
The most unfortunate withdrawal of resources from the welfare schemes has led to many poor widows, single and aged women not being able to receive even the meager widow pension announced by the Govt. In most places, due to the resource crunch, new beneficiaries are chosen only if the existing beneficiary dies. The Finance Minister would gain the blessings of many elderly poor women if the allocation for this scheme is increased to cover all eligible beneficiaries, enhancing their dignity and self respect. There are an increasing number of single women and women headed households amongst the middle class who must be supported to provide for their social security through savings encouraged by tax concessions.

Shelters for Women:
The tremendous increase in the incidence of violence against women throws up the need to make fund provision in the budget for many more short stay homes, hostels, and shelters, where women can stay with or without children. The recently passed Domestic Violence Act, with its mandate of assisting victims of abuse, would also require more counseling cells to be set up. There should be adequate outlays in the budget to implement these initiatives.

Need for Gender Disaggregated Data:

  • The Finance Ministry had undertaken to collect and assimilate gender disaggregated data last year. This was an important step forward in assessing the coverage of women through the various schemes, because data analysis has thrown up the large discrimination being suffered by women, especially poor women in budgetary allocation.  Only 8% of the total amount of budgetary support was for women’s schemes or for the women’s component in general schemes. Of the Rs 25,000 crores of additional funds, only one sixth was expected to benefit women. This year’s budget planning exercise should take this into account and ensure higher outlays.
  • The gender disaggregates should be provided in the presentation stage, and an audit of the implementation should be carried out after 6 months to introduce transparency and accountability into the system
  • The suggestion of the Planning Commission that 35% of fund allocation should go to women must be implemented. This should be done in two ways of affirmative action. Firstly, there should be special allotments for women specific schemes, designed in a gender sensitive way. Secondly a specific percentage of the resources allocated for all programmes and schemes of different Ministries should be reserved for women.

Resource Mobilisation:
Given that the budget is an instrument through which the Government prioritises its collection and allocation of resources, we urge you to ensure that the budget does not garner resources by levying taxes on essential commodities. The move towards dual pricing of kerosene will hit the common woman very hard. The diversion of kerosene can be arrested by better monitoring mechanisms in which activists are involved. We also urge that cooking gas prices should not be raised. The thrust of resource mobilization should be directed at the sectors where the financial margins are higher, keeping in mind that India has one of the lowest tax ratios. We request you to uphold the promise contained in the CMP, and ensure that the interests of the poor and marginalized are safeguarded by the policy directions adopted in the budget.

Ms. Brinda Karat, M.P,  Sudha Sundararaman and Subhashini Ali (AIDWA), Manorama Bawa (AIWC)