15th February 2011

Shri Pranab Mukherjee,
Hon'ble Finance Minister
Government of India
New Delhi - 110001
 Dear Shri Pranab Mukherjee,


We, the undersigned National Women’s Organizations (AIDMAM, AIDWA, AIWC, CWDS, GOS, JWP, MWF, NFIW, YWCA), representing millions of women from the poorest, most backward sections of our society, would like to place our concerns before you with regard to the National Budget for 2011- 2012. We would like to reiterate some of the important components that are crucial for women, and we hope that the suggestions put forth will be taken into consideration seriously by your Ministry, so that the needs of women in this country are budgeted for adequately.

Addressing Price Rise
The past three years have witnessed a period of very rapid and sustained increase in food prices, which has significantly affected the living standards of the bulk of the Indian population. Food price inflation has been in double digits over an extended period, and all the declared government policies have been unable to reduce it. Indeed, some policies such as the deregulation of petrol prices and inability to curb hoarding and speculative trade, have further contributed to such inflation. This has had a particularly adverse impact on women and families from the more disadvantaged and marginalized strata of society. Therefore in this budget we request you, as Finance Minister, to give a special thrust to all sectors that directly or indirectly affect inflation, from the supply side through production, from the demand side through creation of capacity to purchase by generating remunerative employment and through an effective public distribution system.

We demand that the Government should :

  • Enact a comprehensive Food Security Act, allocate 2% of GDP for this purpose.
  • Ensure universal PDS as a core component of the Act
  • Provide 100 days per household under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act; revise schedule of rates to fix realistic gender-sensitive work norms; pay the statutory minimum wages set by the States with full price indexing
  • Enact an Urban Employment Guarantee Act, on the lines of NREGA.
  • Allocate 6% of GDP for Health
  • Allocate 6% of GDP for Education
  • Make adequate budgetary allocation to cover special schemes for women workers
  • Funds for agriculture to be prioritized, increase allocation for food production; special attention be paid to women farmers
  • Enhance resource allocation for tribal, dalit, and minority women, ensure that funds under these heads are not diverted
  • Increase budgetary support for schemes to assist women-headed households, senior citizens and differently abled women
  • Ensure proper gender budgeting in all ministries and departments.

Food Security
The price index of essential commodities in the current fiscal year is much higher than anytime in the past. The budget should note the need for appropriate policy measures to address price rise. We request that stringent measures be taken to control prices, by banning forward trading of wheat and rice and urgently undertaking de-hoarding measures. The Essential Commodities Act should be reintroduced, it must include all items earlier covered under it and be implemented effectively to curb speculation and hoarding.
The disastrous policy of deregulating petrol pricing, which has led to repeated price  increases  and escalating cost of transportation of essential commodities must be reversed.
The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)'s estimate of the hunger index for the 17 major states in 2008 (more than 95 per cent of the population of India) put 12 into the 'alarming' category, and one into the 'extremely alarming' category. 80 per cent of the rural population, 64 per cent of the urban population, and 76 per cent of the total population suffer from inadequate calorie and food consumption. The Government must formulate a Food Security Bill that takes into account this reality, and scrap targeting; universalize the PDS and delink entitlements from the Planning Commission's debatable poverty estimates; include commodities like pulses, sugar, cooking oil and kerosene at subsidized rates; and provide at least 35 kilograms of grain at Rs 2 per kg. The Government is once again holding 60 million tonnes, well over the buffer norms, which must be distributed to curb the inflationary trend. The allocation for food subsidy must be at least 2 per cent of GDP.

Agriculture witnessed a negative growth rate last year, which has serious implications for per capita availability of food grains. The allocation for agriculture in general,and irrigation and food production in particular, must be increased substantially. This is urgently required to increase employment opportunities both in agriculture as well as rural non-farm employment. It is necessary to understand the significance of diverse cropping patterns and crop cycles rather than merely pushing commercial cropping, as has been the practice in recent years. Crops of the dry lands regions (like millets, oilseeds and pulses) which are crucial for food security and where the poorest sections like tribals live, must receive greater support through a special package.
The last decade has seen shrinking of institutional credit alongside exorbitant increase in rates on which credit is available from private channels for the rural population. The budget must ensure that women cultivators are able to access institutional credit to which they are still denied access due to the absence of land titles and other collateral in their name.  Debt relief packages should be made gender sensitive. Government should introduce schemes to provide interest free farm loans or loans on nominal interest not exceeding 4%. Relief packages for suicide ravaged families should take into consideration the problems faced by widows while re-starting cultivation of the lands.
Support for sustainable agriculture programmes under the National Rural Livelihood Scheme and especially the Mahila Kisan Sashaktikaran programme must be delinked from microfinance operations and the formation of SHGs. Women farmers who do not wish to be part of SHGs must also be able to benefit from the support to be given under these new programmes. The interest subsidy under these programmes should be increased so that the repayment rate of women borrowers is not more than 4 %.

According to the National Health Profile (2009), 69.5% of children in the age group 6-59 months, 55.53% of ever married women and 57.8 5 of pregnant women in the 15- 49 age group, are anaemic. The high levels of maternal and infant mortality rates in India continue to be serious health challenges. Hence public expenditure on health should be increased to at least 6% of GDP.
Rural health care infrastructure must be strengthened, and the budget must make higher allocations for Primary Health Centres.  Resource allocation for provision of safe drinking water and universal sanitation, especially in rural areas and urban slums, is needed on a priority basis. Public child-care facilities should be provided for all working women, including from the unorganised sector, and maternity benefit allowance should be raised, in addition to Janani Suraksha Yojana, to Rs. 6000/- per delivery. This should not be linked to the 2 child norm or to BPL.
The Indira Gandhi Matritva Sahyog Yojna, where pregnant women are to be given a conditional cash incentive of Rs 4,000 for pre-natal and post-natal care, should cover all women, without linkage to the BPL category.

Child care
14 lakh anganwadi centres should be set up as per the Supreme Court orders to universalize the ICDS, and the provision for all child specific schemes should increase to at least 12,000 crores. The ICDS should be extended and made an effective tool of health care delivery to children under six and their mothers. The quality of food served in ICDS centres and under the mid day meal scheme needs to be improved considerably.
Child care facilities are urgently needed in urban and rural areas. It is clear that the child care provision under the NREGA is not being implemented in most states, and provision of child care even as per existing laws is being denied by the private sector. As more and more workers are today located in the informal sector of the economy, and many are migrants, it is imperative that this aspect be given significant attention. The budget must also provide increased outlays for training of nurses.

Government should allocate 6% of GDP for education to make it universal, equitable and qualitative for all children from 3 to 14 years of age. Adequate budgetary provisions must be made to implement the Right to Education Act. Shamefully, on the index of adult literacy, India is in the 148th position globally. It is imperative that the National Literacy Mission be de-bureaucratized and funded adequately.
To achieve universal access and quality education, expenditure on SSA must be increased and Education centres should be upgraded to proper schools.
To reduce drop out rate of girls, special funds should be earmarked to ensure separate and functional toilets with water provisions in all schools and for building compound walls in schools to upgrade security.
Also, primary schools need to be set up within 1 km radius of all habitations, especially in rural areas, and proper secondary schools within 3 km of all habitations. There should be more scholarship schemes for girls in secondary schools, particularly for educationally and economically deprived categories and more allocation for vocational, job oriented training.
An important focus of budgeting on education should be the eradication of illiteracy, especially female illiteracy, providing quality education for all, and universalisation of education.

Women Workers
Women form 96 % of the workforce in the unorganised sector, with large numbers working in the home based and domestic work segments. They are not recognised as employees and are denied minimum wages, maternity benefits, child care facilities etc.
The provisions of the Unorganised Worker’s Social Security Act 2008, are confined to BPL workers and it fails to provide funds to cover the proposed schemes. The budget must provide resources to ensure social security for all categories of unorganized sector workers, and for special schemes for home-based workers, domestic workers, etc. Women working in Government schemes like ICDS, NRHM, Midday Meals in Schools, etc should be recognized as workers and paid minimum wages, with budgetary allocation for them. Migrant workers should be recognised as a special category and their needs, such as access to PDS, health, education and child care facilities etc., even when they are away from their place of permanent residence, should be budgeted for.

Employment Guarantee
Fund allocation for the MGNREGA must be increased to ensure that every member is entitled to a minimum of 200 days work, and the Act must be amended accordingly. The present average of 42 days work per household is an indictment of its faulty implementation. The allocation should reach the districts in time so that works are not held up and wages are not delayed. Statutory minimum wages must be paid in accordance with the Minimum Wages Act 1948, and these must be brought in line with the price level with a revision in the Schedule of rates so that they are realistic and gender-sensitive. Efficient monitoring of MGNREGS is needed to check misuse and non-utilisation of funds.
There is also an urgent need to put in place an urban employment guarantee act.

Tribal, Dalit, Minority Women
 In gross violation of the Constitutional norm that allocations for STs and SCs be in accordance with their share in population, this has not happened. The guidelines of SCSP (earmarking 16% of Plan Allocations for SCs) and TSP ( earmarking 8% of Plan Allocations for STs) have not been fulfilled in this budget also. The Union Budget outlays for SCSP and TSP as proportion of the Total Plan allocation of the Union Government (excluding the Central Assistances to the State & UT Plans) for SCs  is 7.19 % and for STs is 4.43 %.
Proportional allocation for SCs, STs and minorities must be made, with a well-defined gender component. Although, several development schemes have been launched for development of minorities since 2006-07, the financial and physical achievement and utilization of several schemes such as the Scholarship Schemes has been very poor. Adequate outlay must be provided for implementation of the Sachar Committee recommendations
Gram Sabhas should be provided technical and financial support for the effective implementation of the Forest Rights Act, especially in states where rejection rates are high and where the provision of joint pattas (titles) is not being implemented effectively. A forest produce price commission should be set up as recommended by the JPC on the Forest Rights Act. The women forest produce collectors should be protected by providing a minimum support price for all minor forest produce. Allocations should be made for technical support to assist women to process minor forest produce at the local level, and market access should be facilitated by the state to ensure that women collectors are not exploited by middle men.
The latest NSSO data shows that tribal women are migrating from rural to urban areas in great numbers. These women are working as contract labourers in brick kilns, construction and mining operations. A registration of such workers should be done and migrants should receive basic social security benefits. The budget should allocate money for their housing, health and educational needs.
Single Women and Women-headed Households
The coverage of single women and women headed households under various heads needs to be enhanced considerably. In particular widow pension schemes, shelters for women in distress, hostels for single working women with or without children, shelters for children without adult protection, shelters for senior citizens, need to be provided support to expand and improve quality of services. The allocation for social welfare schemes must be increased for beneficiaries as well as for administrative expenses. The provision regarding widows with sons losing their eligibility for receiving the widow pension should be removed. Special allocation for addressing the needs of senior citizens needs to be made.
There must be an additional focus on ensuring support and shelter for women victims of violence.

Differently Abled Women
This is one of the most invisible and neglected groups of women whose access to nutrition, health, education and employment are almost non-existent. They are left out of the limited government concessions and reservation available to disabled persons, especially if they belong to other marginal groups like schedules tribes and scheduled castes. The concerns of disabled women as a distinct group should be mainstreamed in all programmes and schemes in general, and special efforts should be made to incorporate their concerns in all schemes for women and children. Being a group suffering from multiple oppressions, efforts should be made to ensure that the concerns of disabled women are taken into account in both the disability sector and women empowerment initiatives.
Self  Help Groups 
The coverage of the SHG bank linkage programme should be expanded. Direct credit facilities by Banks to the SHGs should be put in the priority sector. At the same time the priority sector tag should be removed from credit that is given by banks to microfinance institutions. Interest subsidies on bank lending to SHGs should be increased through higher budgetary allocations for SHGs. The government should ensure that all women get credit at low interest rates and in a manner that their repayment rate does not exceed 4% per annum. Women from vulnerable social groups like dalits, tribals and minorities should receive credit at interest rates that do not exceed 2 percent per annum. This will ensure that women borrowers are not forced into the hands of the MFIs. At the same time a law should be enacted and a regulatory framework should be put in place to curtail the exploitation by and profits of the MFIs.Such a framework should put a stop to the coercive, and exploitative lending practices of the MFIs. Provision should be made by Govt. to play a supportive role for SHGs.

Implementation of legislations for women
Budgetary allocation must be made at the central level to ensure that the institutional mechanisms for the proper implementation of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act are set up. Similar efforts should be made to implement other protective legislations. The setting up of women headed police stations must be expedited and budgeted for.

Gender Budgeting 
It is unfortunate that though the Government has nominally accepted the longstanding demand of women’s organizations that gender budgeting is essential and several ministries were supposed to prepare a public expenditure profile from a gender perspective, this continues to be a very limited exercise. 
The target of 30% gender allocations under all ministries must be implemented immediately. There is need for gender audit and gender outcome appraisal of all ministries and departments at the central and state levels. Very often, resource allocations made under gender budgeting do not reach in time and remain unspent. There should be proper monitoring and supervision of expenditure and outlay with greater transparency and accountability at all levels.
Sex-disaggregated data must be made available as far as possible to enable assessment of the expenditure and outcomes in gender terms.
The expenditure intended for child related schemes should be treated as a different category and not clubbed as part of gender budgeting. The practice of clubbing the expenditure on women with the expenditure on children gives misleading statistics, apart from being patriarchal and discriminatory in nature. The figures may be provided under a separate head, or indicated separately. 

Sir, the economic crisis in recent years has mounted increased pressure on women along with other sections of society. Given the loss of livelihoods many more women today shoulder the burden of running the household and of feeding the family. Realization of this has to be reflected in the policy and planning process at all levels.   The undersigned women organizations urge you, Sir, to take these aspects into consideration and ensure that the forthcoming budget reflects the needs and problems of women adequately.

With thanks, and in anticipation,

Vimal Thorat                                                                All India Dalit Mahila Adhikar Manch
Sudha Sundararaman                                          All India Democratic Women's Association
Gomati Nair                                                                               All India Women's Conference
Mary John                                                               Centre for Women's Development Studies
Mohini Giri                                                                                                       Guild of Service
Jyotsna Chatterjee                                                                          Joint Women's Programme
Azra Abidi                                                                                           Muslim Women's Forum
Annie Raja                                                                     National Federation of Indian Women
Leila Passah                                                  Young Women's Christian Association of India