Beyond pink covers for the Economic Survey of India 2018, the Union government has done little for women empowerment in its budget allocation this year.
The only major announcement is reduction of women employees’ PF contribution to 8% for first three years of their employment against existing rate of 12% or 10% with no change in employers’ contribution. This would mean a little more take-home wages for new women employees. Other than this, analysts state that most of the other ostensibly women-centric budgetary provisions are cosmetic, failing to address real issues despite several mentions of the word ‘women’ in Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s budget speech.
“After all this talk, the budget seems to be entirely gender blind. Instead of increasing wages of the poorly paid Asha heath workers and aanganwadi workers, the money to national health mission has been cut in absolute terms while the increase for aanganwadi services is almost insignificant. Also, the allocation for Nirbhaya fund has remained unchanged at Rs 500 crore,” said development economist Jayati Ghosh.
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Allocation for Ministry of Women and Child Development is just 1 per cent of the total projected expenditure for 2018-19. The proportion of gender budget to the total budgetary expenditure remains a measly 4.9 per cent. Gender budget, introduced in 2005, was meant to ensure some allocation across each ministry so as to make the budget more gender-responsive. A chunk of the gender budget this year, as in case of last year, is for Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (rural). “The housing scheme is not meant only for women-headed households. It is strange that it is shown as a gender specific expenditure. What is more worrying is the decline in spending on maternal and child health,” said Avani Kapur, director at Accountability Initiative.
The maternity benefit scheme, announced by the Prime Minister in December 2016, has, in fact, seen a cut in allocation — from Rs 2,700 crore last year to Rs 2,400 crore this year. “Our estimates show the scheme needs at least Rs 8,000 crore for 1.2 crore live births that happen annually. Even by the government’s lower target of 52 lakh beneficiaries, the sum is grossly inadequate,” said Dipa Sinha from Right to Food Campaign.
The next highest estimate under gender budget is projected for Ujwala Yojana for LPG gas provision to poor households. Jaitley announced that the scheme would now have a revised target of providing free connection to 8 crore poor women as against the earlier target of 5 crore. Yamini Aiyer, President of Centre for Policy Research, said Ujjwala scheme, meant to be a vote- catcher, has show several limitations in its implementation. “There is increased evidence to suggest that while the number of LPG connections have increased, the household usage of cylinders are low as they are unable to afford the costs,” said Aiyer. She added that NREGA, an important social security scheme for rural women, has also not had any significant increase. NREGA, which has seen increasing feminisation over the years, has been given a budgetary allocation of Rs 55,000 crore, which is exactly the amount that was spent on the demand driven scheme in 2017-18.
In a statement issued Thursday, All India Democratic Women’s Association pointed out that while Jaitley mentioned the plight of women farmers, the gender specific allocation for women farmers in the budget is just 3.92 per cent of the entire gender budget, an increase of only 0.63 per cent annually.