JOINT MEMORANDUM TO FINANCE MINISTER ON BUDGET 2009-10
23 June 2009
Shri Pranab Mukherjee
The Hon’ble Finance Minister,
Government of India
New Delhi 110001
Dear Shri Pranab Mukherjee,
On behalf of women organisations, we would like to place before you the concerns of lakhs of women, most of whom belong to the poorest sections of the society. We feel that it is extremely important to take into consideration the opinion of women’s organisations in pre-budget consultations so that the gender component of the Union Budget could be enhanced and strengthened. We request you to take into account the following suggestions and demands while finalizing the budget proposal for the current year.
Much more effort is needed as far as gender budgeting is concerned. The Mid Term Appraisal Committee of the Tenth Five Year Plan recommendation advising 30% of all allocations within all ministries to reach women is far from being implemented.
Misleading computations have artificially exaggerated the amount actually being spent on women. For instance, the entire budgets for ICDS or the Ministry for Social Justice and even items like Fashion Designing are regularly shown as women specific expenditure. The ambit of gender budgeting should include gender audit and gender outcome assessment in all Ministries and departments at Central and State levels. There must be a greater transparency, and accountability of the Centre and the States regarding the actual disaggregated expenditure, as compared to the allocation of funds, in the final statement. Further, it should extend beyond expenditure policies to cover the gender-differentiated implications of tax policies as well.
In particular, we suggest:
- Allocations should be provided to the gender budget cells located in the different ministries to strengthen their functioning.
- The recommendation made in the mid term appraisal of the 10th Plan allocating 30% expenditure for women should be implemented rigorously.
- Sex-disaggregated data must be made available as far as possible to enable assessment of the expenditure and outcomes in gender terms.
- The notion of bringing all schemes for children etc. automatically under the gender component is patriarchal and discriminatory, and should be discontinued. Child related expenditure should be placed under a different head, or indicated separately.
CONTROLLING PRICE ESCALATION; ENSURING FOOD SECURITY
The continuous and steep rise in prices of essential commodities is a matter of grave concern for women. The budget must ensure that strict measures are taken to ensure price stability and prevent speculation in essential commodities. We regret that the government has recently lifted the ban on forward trading of wheat and rice. We urge you to re-impose it and extend it to cover all essential commodities.
Food insecurity impacts women and girl children first and has emerged as a major problem across the country. The latest NFHS-3 highlights the poor nutritional status of women and children, and the girl child in particular. The promised National Food Security Act lowers the grain entitlement of all ration card holders including the most vulnerable BPL and Antyodaya sections from 35 kgs to 25 kgs. This is a step backward, rather than a strengthening of the system. It is all the more surprising in the present situation when government has successfully procured adequate stocks that are lying unutilised in government warehouses.
Targeting has undermined the PDS and has led to unfair exclusions, depriving a large section of the poor, including widows, single women, tribal and Dalits the right to access cheaper food grain, and many other welfare measures as well. We suggest:
- Return to a universal system of distribution under the PDS, rather than the present targeted system, at Antyodaya prices.
- Ensuring sufficient quantities of supply in the PDS system across all states to both BPL as well as APL households. Earlier quotas must be restored. The allocations must take into account spiralling prices, and the need to assure all citizens a minimum food security.
- Substantial increase in allocations for the Food Corporation of India to facilitate procurement and ensure safe storage of items; and for the PDS to ensure its extension to all habitations in the country.
- The Essential Commodities Act should be revoked and items removed from its scope should be brought back under it. The Act must be used effectively to curb speculation and hoarding.
3. ADDRESSING THE NEEDS OF WOMEN FARMERS
The agrarian crisis continues to be extensive, with rising input costs rendering farming an unviable proposition. Women of rural households have been particularly adversely affected. Women play a crucial role in the agricultural sector, and their identity as farmers should be acknowledged, and supported through the budget measures. Although credit to agriculture has increased, women cultivators continue to be denied access to institutional credit because of the absence of land titles and other collateral in their name. We therefore suggest:
- Special measures to ensure that women cultivators not holding land titles but cultivating household land or as tenants get access to institutional credit up to Rs. 1,50,000, as per RBI guidelines.
- Devising of a comprehensive debt relief package for farmers to address indebtedness, and explicit recognition of the needs of indebted women cultivators as a separate entity. The half-hearted measures to provide region-specific relief packages and token interest subvention need to be replaced by debt write-offs for small and marginal farmers across the country. This should include non- institutional debts as well. Ensure availability and accessibility of interest free farm loans to women. In any case, the interest rate should not exceed 4%.
- Ensure fair and remunerative prices to farmers for their produce.
- Relief must be provided for families of farmers who have committed suicide. Women should be recognised as farmers in this respect by all state governments, and relief packages should note the specific difficulties faced by widows in subsequent cultivation. The educational needs of children and particularly daughters should be taken into account. All suicide affected households must be eligible for an Antyodaya card (until such time as a universal system is in place.)
4. WOMEN WORKERS
Women form a large bulk of the unorganized work force, especially in the home based and domestic work segments. They have not been recognized as employees, and are not paid minimum wages even under Govt. schemes where they are employed in significant numbers. The Unorganized Workers’ Social Security Act 2008 has been passed, but is restricted to BPL workers, and it fails to provide for any funds to cover the proposed schemes. The lakhs of women who opt for work under NREGS are often denied minimum wages due to gender insensitive work norms. The absence of adequate opportunities for productive employment are also one of the major problems facing women. We therefore suggest:
- Adequate funding of the NREGS, and proper mechanism to ensure that funds reach the districts in time so that works are not held up, and wages are not delayed. .
- Financial provision for time and motion studies within NREGA to ensure proper work norms that will ensure that women earn the statutory minimum wage after a day’s work. Ensuring the provision of childcare facilities, rest and shade and other facilities as specified in the guidelines, with separate financial provision.
- Extension of the employment guarantee to urban areas
- Anganwadi workers, mid day meal workers and health workers in the public system who perform crucial social functions should be paidminimum wages.
- Provision for public child care facilities for all working women, particularly from the unorganised sector. Maternity Benefit Allowance to cover the costs of nutrition and care ( in addition to JSY) be raised to Rs. 6000/-
- Provisions for providing hostels to working women should be increased.
- Remove BPL criterion for extending social security measures to unorganized sector workers. Provide for a Grievance Redressal Machinery to address their complaints.
- The economic contribution of unpaid family workers should be recognised by extending social security provision to them as well.
- Recognize migrant workers as a special category with special needs, and make provision in the budget for this vulnerable section to access the PDS, health and educational facilities, etc. even when they are on the move.
There has been a decline in per capita public expenditure on health. The latest NFHS points to very poor performance in basic health indicators, including child immunisation. Serious issues of under-financing of major schemes such as the creation and up gradation of public health infrastructure, the provision of emergency ambulance services, the provision of essential drugs and supplies, and the failure to create institutional frameworks for programmes have to be overcome. The ICDS programme has to guarantee universal coverage with minimum quality services , as per the Supreme Court mandate. In this context we suggest:
- Public expenditure on health must be increased to at least 5 per cent of GDP.
- The primary health care system should be revitalized with adequate infrastructure.
- Increase outlays for the provision of drinking water, universal sanitation and food security as part of the commitment to safeguarding the health of the people.
- Set up the 14 lakh anganwadi centres required to universalise the ICDS as per the latest Supreme Court orders. Increase provision for all child specific schemes including ICDS to at least Rs. 12,000 crores. Iron supplementation to be assured for women suffering from anaemia, across all age spans.
- Increased outlays for nurse training to be provided in the budget..
To achieve the goal of universal, equitable, quality education for all children, upto 14 years of age, the budgetary allocation must be increased to at least 6% of the GDP. The Right to Education Bill Amendment must not permit privatization of education, and must extend the provision of free and universal education to the 3-6 age group as well. Significant increases in central government programmes on both literacy and education are required, and special allocations must be made to ensure greater access to women. We suggest:
- The programme for eradication of female illiteracy must be adequately funded.
- Expenditure on SSA must be increased to ensure universal access, and “Education Centres” must be upgraded to proper schools to provide all children with good quality schooling
- Primary schools to be set up within 1 km radius of all habitations..
- Increase in secondary school spending; ensure provision of proper secondary schools within 3 km of all habitations to enable girl students to attend school
- Allocation of special funds to ensure separate and functional toilets (with water provision) for girls in all schools. Provision for building compound walls in schools to upgrade security.
- Enhanced scholarship scheme for girls in secondary school, with special emphasis on girls from educationally deprived categories.
- Increase allocation for vocational, job oriented training and non stereotyped skills development.
7. OTHER ISSUES
SHGs: Increase of allocations for self help groups; more funds should be made available for credit at interest rates not exceeding 4% per annum; health insurance and social security for their members and training and marketing support for the groups to become economically productive. Strengthening of the Rashtriya Mahila Kosh in order to play a supportive role for SHGs.
Minority Women: Provision for adequate budgetary outlay for implementation of the Sachar committee recommendations with allocation towards a subcomponent plan which includes Muslim women who are amongst the most deprived and marginalized sections of society today. The provision of Urdu language teaching in schools, and better amenities in the local schools and madrasas should be budgeted for. Special allocations for hostels and sanitation in schools should be provided.
Tribal and Dalit Women: In tribal areas, a special focus to ensure electrification of all tribal areas, PHCs, drinking water, and hostels for tribal girls with all required facilities, needs to be budgeted for. There should be a separate monitoring mechanism to ensure that this special fund is effectively utilized. Provision should be made to ensure that these entitlements reach dalit habitations as well.
Welfare Schemes for Women: There is a need for a major step up in outlays for welfare and social security schemes for women and children, with special provision for single women and women headed households. In particular widow pension schemes, shelters for women in distress situations, 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 individuals covered under them as well as for administrative expenses. The restriction on 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.
PWDV Act: Since the funds required to implement the Domestic Violence Act have not been provided for at the central level, institutional mechanisms for implementing the Act are not in place. As a result, many women are facing difficulties in utilising the Act. There has to be a budgetary allocation to ensure that the institutional mechanisms required for the proper implementation of the Act are properly operationalized.
Physically and Mentally Challenged Women: There should be special schemes and allocations for addressing the needs of physically and mentally challenged women.
Thanking you in anticipation,
Sudha Sundararaman (AIDWA) Gomti Nair (AIWC), Mary John (CWDS), Ms Jyotsana Chatterjee (JWP), Mohini Giri (GOS), Vimal Thorat (AIDMAM), Annie Raja, (NFIW), Sughra Mehdi (MWF), Kalpana David (YWCA)