8th July 2004

The Union budget marks a change, though highly inadequate from the previous NDA Government’s blatantly pro-rich and pro-MNC policies. The concerns expressed by the Finance Minister for sections which were hitherto invisible as far as the NDA Government was concerned as, for example, the rural poor and their needs such as employment, housing, water, is welcome and will benefit women of these sections. The thrust given to rural infrastructure and increased credit for farmers is necessary to reverse the anti-farmer policies of the previous regime. We welcome the steps taken to help the handloom sector which is in crisis and in which a large number of women are involved. The cess of two per cent specifically for education including for the expansion of the mid-day meal scheme is also welcome. The redesigning of heath insurance schemes including for self-help groups will help women if properly implemented.

However the actual increase in budgetary allocations to back up the promises should have been much more if it is to make any difference to the lives of the people. When the allocation is itself inadequate, then the women’s component of the budget can hardly increase. At a time when the CMP has to a certain extent recognized the acute conditions of distress of large sections of the people it was expected that the first budget of this Government would reflect the commitments made in the CMP to the poor and working people including those in the unorganised sector and that it would come up with the concrete steps and massive expenditures essential to ameliorate the conditions of rural distress and of the urban poor. In this respect the budget is disappointing.  It falls short of the mandate given to this Government across the country against the economic burdens placed on the shoulders of the poor and the working people by the previous regime. In particular women who had hoped that excise duties on cooking gas would be reduced have been disappointed. The increase of Antyodaya families by another 50 lakhs is definitely not sufficient. Moreover the so-called pilot scheme of food stamps is a step away from universalization of the PDS and must be strongly opposed.

The Finance Minister’s assurance for periodic analysis of gender-based allocations and presentation of data is welcome. However it would appear that his understanding of gender budgeting is only partial. The concept includes a comprehensive approach to address the discrimination faced by women in all spheres in the allocation and use of national resources on the basis of affirmative action. For example even in the food-for- work schemes announced by the Finance Minister for 18 backward districts, women should be assured that at least forty per cent of the work will be earmarked for them. Even as the Finance Minister has not been bold enough either in resource allocation or in gender affirmative action, he has raised the FDI levels in crucial sectors which is not in the interests either of industry or of the country and which should be reversed.