June 10, 2004
The Union Minister for Finance                                                         
Government of India,
New Delhi

Dear Shri Chidambram,

We appreciate your giving us an opportunity to place before you the concerns of women regarding the forthcoming budget. We request you to include women’s organizations and representatives as an “interest group” in your pre-budget consultations regularly. You will appreciate that it is women as managers of family budgets as well as members of the workforce who are most directly impacted by the budget.

  1. In the light of the CMP adopted by the Government we feel that there is an urgent need for a reappraisal of the priorities set in the Tenth Plan which according to us are at variance with the social commitments made in the CMP. We believe that a course correction in the direction of the Plan is required to keep in focus the social priorities of the CMP. This is an exercise that brooks no delay.
  2. The previous budgets had cut down on actual budgetary resources for crucial sections of society such as women, labour, children and the unorganised sector. This should be corrected and allocations increased substantially. The commitment for increased allocations for health and education must also be implemented.
  3. There are two aspects of affirmative action for women. Firstly, allocations and designs of women-specific schemes and secondly, allocation of a specific percentage of the resources, for women in all programmes and schemes of different Ministries. Unfortunately in spite of our repeated demands there has been no review of the past allocations. Recently there has been a gender post budgeting exercise which has shown that the benefits to women have declined from 1.02 per cent of public expenditure in 1998-1999 to 0.87 per cent in 2001-2002. The earlier Government orders on 40 per cent allocations of all resources to be used for the benefit of women have not been implemented. Even as far as beneficiaries in Government employment schemes are concerned, recent estimates of the Ministry for Rural development programmes show that it is even below 20 per cent. Your budget must correct this injustice. We request a clear commitment of resources and political will to ensure that at least forty per cent of the resources allocated for different programmes of employment generation, self employment, skill enhancement for employment must be earmarked for women with clear arrangements for its monitoring. This should be done by the Planning Commission in a transparent manner, making the results available to the public on a six monthly basis.
  4. A large number of women work in the unorganised sector and in traditional industries. Current policies have led to the destruction of many of these industries like handloom, coir, cashew etc. because of the taxes levied on raw materials and the problems of marketing. The budget must express a clear financial commitment to help all these industries. In the unorganised sector schemes for social security should form part of the budget. The needs of women for credit, for training and for marketing support should be fully supported by the Central Government by creating a special fund and improving access with the help of women’s organizations so that the funds are utilized and the scheme does not remain on paper.
  5. While welcoming the CMP commitment for 100 days work for every rural and urban household we would like to emphasise that the programme must include at least 40 per cent women in its beneficiaries, specifically women headed families, and single women.
  6. In the organized sector there was an earlier practice to employ a family member of the deceased employee on compassionate grounds that has in practice, been given up. This must be restored by a commitment in your budget speech. In the context of widows and single women, and senior citizens, unfortunately social security is non-existent and even the meagre widow pensions have not been available in the name of inadequate resources.  We urge you to increase allocations for widow pensions specifically to ensure social security and dignity for this section of our population. Women senior citizens also require your special consideration. There are an increasing number of single women and women headed families among the middle class also. They must be supported to provide for their social security through savings encouraged by tax concessions, which at present is only a token of a few thousand rupees in standard deductions for income tax.
  7. Mid-day meal schemes have not been implemented in many States because of the lack of resource allocation from the centre. In fact previous budgets have actually cut down allocations for this scheme. Your budget must provide adequate resources for the universalisation of cooked mid day meal scheme for all primary schools as a first step.
  8. The Centre and the State Governments should continue to take direct responsibility for efficient and equitable benefits of the ICDS which must be further expanded to universalise the programme as per repeated commitments An increased allocation for the salaries of anganwadi workers and helpers who are extremely overburdened with multiple responsibilities is essential. In other locations crèches should be started and funded from the Central Government if necessary through a cess on employers.
  9. Women’s health particularly primary health care at all stages of their life should be strengthened as part of State responsibility to its citizens. This may be further supported by comprehensive health insurance schemes. Earlier proposals were extremely gender insensitive and ignored the special health needs of women. At present allocations for primary health have a low priority as compared, for example, to family planning budgets. Priorities must be changed to focus on the basic health needs of women and children. We consider allocations and commitment for the promises to provide safe drinking water and sanitation services as essential parts of health needs of women and children. Specific allocations to ensure these services in all locations must be accepted as a national priority for the central Government and should be reflected in the budget.
  10. Given the increase in incidents of violence against women, there is urgency for the provision of funds for short stay homes and shelters as well as for counselling services. The budget should make adequate provision for such services.
  11. Given that the budget is an instrument through which the Government prioritises the collection and allocation of resources, we urge you to ensure that your budget does not increase its revenue through the levying of taxes on essential commodities. In this context we urge you to refrain from any increase in the prices of kerosene that will badly hit the poor. Food security is basic to the right to live. In this context the food subsidy for the consumer, which constitutes barely one third of the entire subsidy bill, should not be reduced in the name of targeting. On the contrary, targeting has led to the exclusion of large sections of the poor among whom women are the majority. With only a small increase in the subsidy, the country can have a universal food distribution system at cheap prices that will serve the basic needs of the people.


Thanking you,

Yours sincerely,

Brinda Karat (AIDWA), Gomti Nair (AIWC), Nirmala Buch, C.P.Sujaya (CWDS), Mohini Giri (Guild of Service). Jyotsna Chatterjee (JWP). Syeda Hameed (Muslim Women’s Forum). Sahba Farooqui (NFIW). Mary Khemchand (YWCA). Husna Subhani (All India Muslim Women’s Association)