The All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA) sees the Modi Government’s last full budget before the general elections of 2024, as an attempt to hoodwink women and working people of the country in order to promote the agenda of big corporate houses. The narrative unleashed by the government in the name of the budget, is designed to perpetrate false hoods and show that all is well, and people are becoming prosperous. However, we need to contrast the PR of the government with the prevailing social reality.
The presentation of the budget should be seen in the context of the widening inequality and deepening economic distress. As the Global Inequality Report, 2022, shows 1 percent of the population, namely the capitalist cronies of the BJP government, control more than 40 percent of the wealth of the country, whereas the bottom 50 percent control only 3 percent and are scrambling for survival. Women and their families are facing a severe employment crisis, but the budget is oblivious to this reality. Instead, it provides minimal tax relief to the salaried class, and ignores the plight of the self-employed and a majority of those in informal labour. This is likely to exacerbate rather than reduce the inequality within the country.
A closer look at the budget shows us that the Government has actually cut back on its expenditure and the size of the government expenditure has in fact become smaller. In nominal terms, the proportion of the Union budget to GDP has come down from 15.3 percent(revised) in 2022-2023, to 14.9 percent (budget estimates) in 2023-24. However, if we account for the current inflation rate, there is in fact a reduction in the total budgetary expenditure of the Union government.
The PM and Finance Minister have touted this budget as a pro-women budget, but it's figures tell a totally different story. The total proportion of the Gender Budget as proportion of GDP has increased from 0.71 percent (RE) 2022-2023 to 0.73 percent (BE), 2023-24. But if we account for inflation, the real value of these allocations is less by about 3 percent which is lower than last year. Further, most of the nominal increases are because of one scheme, the PM Awas Yojana, which has got a big fillip in this budget. But this increase is notional, because the Union Government’s record of release and utilization of funds in this scheme is abysmal, and most states received only half of their approved budgets in 2022.
As far as the Ministry of Women and Child Development is concerned, its total expenditure is only about 0.05 percent of the entire expenditure budget. About 80 percent of this is for the Saksham Anganwadi POSHAN 2.0 scheme. The budget for schemes addressing safety issues and violence against women have minimal budgetary increases. Further, there are virtually no provisions for sports women, whose safety has become a major concern in recent times.
The main emphasis of the budget is on mobilizing women’s savings and linking them with corporate supply chains. The Finance Minister touted that the Deen Dayal National Rural Livelihood Mission has 81 lakh savings groups which will be upgraded and made into large enterprises. However, the credit provided to them will be largely through private players and there are no announcements for low interest credit lines for women. Further, the new savings scheme announced for women, Mahila Samaan Saving Patra, is only going to cover only a handful of women who can afford to save. Thus, the financial schemes announced by the government will do little to address the problem of increasing indebtedness of women. The root cause of this debt trap is both, lack of livelihood and the high interest rates charged by the MFIs and private Small Finance Banks. Rather it will put the savings of women at the disposal of these private lending agencies, whose share is growing in financial markets, because of the policies of the Modi government.
Further, employment generation schemes like MGNREGS, have experienced cut backs to the tune of 33 percent. In fact, such cutbacks are a direct attack on women-oriented schemes. As expected, there is no announcement for recognition of the rights of scheme workers, or for enhancing their remuneration. The allocations under the National Assistance Programme (including widow pension), and schemes for welfare of scheduled tribes and scheduled castes have seen nominal and no substantive increases.
Despite making tall claims about providing free food to 80 Crore families and extending the term of the PM Garib Kalyan Yojana for one year, the food subsidy has come down by 31 percent, in nominal terms. It is also one third less than the actual expenditure in 2021-2022. Further, there has been a decrease, even in nominal terms in the National Midday Meal programme and the allocations for the Anganwadi programme are almost the same as the revised budget for last year. This allocation can also be considered a cutback in real terms, when we account for inflation.
Expenditures on education have seen small budgetary increases in nominal terms. However, the most worrying trend in educational expenditure is the emphasis on digital education, non-restoration of Rajiv Gandhi and Maulana Azad Fellowships, and the emphasis on student loans as a financing model for education. All these will have an adverse impact on women/girls education. Expenditures on the Health Mission ( including maternal and child health) have seen nominal decreases. The only health spending with some substantive increase is Ayushman Bharat, which is dominated by private sector companies. Thus, we see that the government is actually making massive cuts in social welfare expenditure, rather than providing a model for ‘inclusive development’.
The All India Democratic Women’s Association sees this budget as an exercise to subsidise big corporate houses, at the expense of women and their families. It calls upon all its units and the democratic forces to hold protests and expose the fraud that the government is perpetrating in the name of an ‘inclusive budget’ and work for the defeat of this draconian and pro-corporate Government in 2024.