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Union Budget 2015-16, through gender lens

Gender-budgeting-India

By Vibhuti Patel

The Union Budget (2015-16) has subsidized the corporate sector by providing the tax reductions and sops. The wealth tax (replaced by a 2 per surcharge) and the phased reduction of corporate tax have made the richer sections of the economy jubilant. The burden of indirect taxes is going to break the back of poor women.

Macroeconomic measures proposed in the budget are detrimental to the working class and marginalized sections of the economy. Instead of raising the direct taxes from rich sections to fund the Railway budget, public-private partnership (PPP) model is promoted to further the cause of corporatization of transport and make the masses pay more for the transport services.

The budget has demanded the diversion of pension funds and MP Local area Development (MPLAD) funds thereby absolving the government from any direct responsibility to enhance financial support for regional development and pensioners. Reduction in financial allocation for Panchayati Raj, the Union Budget makes a mockery of democratic decentralization in the absence of financial decentralization, the local self government bodies become ineffective and the talk of 50% reserved seats for women in the rural and urban local self government bodies becomes an empty rhetoric of ‘empowerment of women’.

Public economics with no concern for the marginalized groups
The state is increasingly withdrawing from the social sector in which the financial allocation has been reduced to from 16.3 percent 2014-2015 (budget estimates) and 15.06 percent revised estimates, 2014-15 to 13.7 percent of the current budget outlay for 2015-2016. Financial allocation for women’s needs gets reduced in the current budget as the percentage of allocation for women and child development remains stagnant at 0.01 percent of the total budget. This budget fails to translate gender commitments of the government into budgetary commitments as the financial provisions for gender concerns have reduced from 4.19 percent of the estimated total budgetary expenditure in 2014-2015 to 3.71 percent of the total expenditure in the current budget.

Gender budgeting
In the Union Budget 2015-16, there has been nearly 50% percent decrease in the allocation of the Ministry of Women and Child Development over the revised budget of 2014-15. Even if we add the Rs. 1000 Cr for the Nirbhaya fund and Rs. 100 Cr for the Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao fund to the ministry’s allocation, there is still a decrease of more than 1/3rd allocation in the total amount allocated for women and child development. The Gender Budget has been drastically slashed by 20 per cent (less by Rs. 20,000 crore). Major chunk of gender budget is cornered by Reproductive and Child Health (RCH) with an aim of population stabilization and to meet the targets of ‘two-child norm’.

MGNREGA – Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act
MGNREGA, a major safety net for poorest of the poor women has received a major blow. For women headed households where main economic burden of the family is shouldered by widows, separated, single and deserted women; the survival struggle will be more painful and extremely arduous due to symbolic increase in budgetary allocation for Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Scheme in the context of galloping inflation. The Finance Minister stated that he will only allocate an additional Rs. 5000 Cr to the scheme if there is an increase in the revenue receipts of the government.

Health and nutrition

The economic survey presented along with the budget, criticizes the PDS systems and argues for the uniform application of the cash transfer scheme through JAM (Jan Dhan- Aadhar and Mobile network) as a means of implementing food subsidy. Experience shows that this policy measure has failed to ensure proper nutrition for women as it cannot ensure adequate food for them.

ICDS and Midday meals
The allocations under the ICDS and Midday Meal Schemes have come down by half, from over Rs. 16,000 crores to Rs. 8,000 crores only in the Union Budget. The government made an empty promise of increasing the allocations for ICDS by Rs. 1500 Cr on condition of increase in revenue receipts. The gender budget in the health sector has been reduced by 17.9 percent over last year’s revised estimate. The budget perceives women only as reproductive beings, as a result overall health needs of women and girls are neglected. There is nothing in the budget for elderly women.

Budgetary allocation for housing and urban poverty alleviation has been reduced from Rs. 6,008 crores in the previous year to Rs. 5,634 crores in the current budget. Financial allocation for the Tribal Sub-Plan (TSP) has reduced to 5.5 per cent as against mandated 8.2 per cent. Thus, as compared to the previous year’s budget, the current budgetary allocation for tribal development is short of Rs. 5000 crores. For SCs it is 8.34 per cent instead of the mandated 17 per cent (less by Rs. 12,000 crore

Education of girls
The disregard for girls’ education is also evident in this budget. The overall gender budget for school education has come down by 8.3 percent over last year’s revised estimate. The budget for Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan has been reduced by 9.5 percent. The much touted Beti Bachao Beti Padhao Abhiyan gets only Rs. 100 Cr which is a mockery of this important slogan.

Rail Budget
The Rail Budget must give priority to increase the number of women’s compartments and prevent men from encroaching in them, improve lighting in all compartments, toilets and on railway platforms and outside railway stations, post policewomen and have a special helpline for women commuters. Moreover, the ministry must give top priority to cleanliness, affordable and safe food, sufficient toilets, clean drinking water and adequate health services on railway coaches and platforms. Most of the cases of kidnapping of women and children take place at the railway stations. Hence, budget for ‘Women’s Help Desk” functioning 24 X 7 must be created to cover all major railway stations and junctions throughout the country.

Social security
Women’s organizations have been demanding universal social security coverage for all women workers. But, in this budget, there is no special focus on the needs of working women, especially in the unorganized sector. Though the budget has provided for a pension, old age pension and social safety net fund, the allocation for finances for these much needed schemes is highly insufficient. There is a virtual phasing out of schemes like shelter homes for single women, one stop crisis centres and there is only a meager allocation of Rs. 30 Cr for hostels for working women. The scheme for improving the working condition women and child labour has also got a slight increase.

As far as the allocations for women safety are concerned, the budget increases the Nirbhaya Fund by Rs. 1000 Cr. But let us not forget that last two years’ budgets, 2013-14 and 2014-15, allocations under Nirbhaya fund were not utilized as the government has no concrete plan of action to create structures, channels and mechanisms to use this fund.

India’s commitment to universal social security does not offer much in reality. In spite of high maternal and child mortality rates in our country, there is nothing on universal maternity benefit. In spite of hundreds of thousands of women involved in subsistence production, neither Economic Survey nor the budget recognizes women farmers. Budget talks about the raised agriculture credit target by Rs.50, 000 crore to Rs.8.5 trillion for 2015-16 fiscal and also announced financial support to enhance irrigation and soil health for higher agriculture productivity. Lot in the budget is being talked about farmers, small farmers but nothing on women farmers.

Infrastructure

The allocation for infrastructure sector Rs 70,000 crores, but it doesn’t talk about the investment for reduction in the daily grind of unpaid care work done by women in terms of cooking, cleaning, caring, collection of fuel, fodder, water, looking after live-stock and kitchen-gardening. It is high time that budget recognizes, reduces and redistributes the women’s unpaid care and non-care work. Women pedestrians need footpaths, women vendors and entrepreneurs need market places, women commuters need affordable and safe transport, rest rooms and public toilets, elderly women in half way homes, but the union budget is not bothered about these crucial concerns of women.

Conclusion

In conclusion, it is clear that the toiling poor, majority of who are women, are the major casualty as the budget hardly offers anything in terms of

Protective Services- Sabla, Swadhar-scheme for women in Difficult Circumstances, Ujjawala Comprehensive Scheme for Prevention of Trafficking, One stop Crisis centre for women and children survivors of violence, night shelters for homeless women and children, short stay homes, welfare of working children

Social Services-ICPS, JSY, GIA, Creche, CFNEUS, Kishori Shakti Yojana, Nutrition Programme for adolescent Girls

Economic services such as schemes for training and skill development, and provision for credit, infrastructure, marketing etc. which are critical to women’s economic independence and autonomy. e.g. STEP, Support for Training and Empowerment of Girls, working women’s hostel.

Regulatory services which include institutional mechanisms for women’s empowerment, such as State Commissions for Women, women’s cells in police stations, awareness generation programme etc.

India budget 2013-14: Women let down again

India budget women

A look at the Union Budget of India this fiscal year through the gender lens reflects its gross inadequacies on most fronts. The government has done nothing to change its shameful track record on gender budgeting

By Vibhuti Patel

The Union Budget 2013-2014 has allocated Rs. 97134 crores for addressing gender concerns in the budget (less than 6 % of the total budget) and Rs. 77236 crores for children. This budget needs to be understood in the historical context of the social parameters of the country. India’s record for achieving the Millennium Development Goals has been extremely poor as compared to several African, Latin American and Asian Countries. In the international arena despite the attempt to portray a ‘Shining India’, the country has been named and shamed continuously for not being able to reduce its maternal and child mortality rates, wide spread anaemia and malnutrition among women and children, starvation deaths in certain pockets, sky rocketing prices of essential goods, namely food, water and cooking fuel.

It’s in this context one must examine the Union Budget 2013-14. Last year the allocation for gender in the budget was Rs. 18,878.5 crore. Due to sustained pressure from the women’s groups and gender economists, separate budget allocations for women and children were made in 2012 budget.

Budget for women in difficult circumstances
The financial allocation of Rs. 200 crore for the ‘most vulnerable’ groups including single women and widows is an eye wash. Such a paltry amount cannot support schemes like Swadhar, working women’s hostels, one-stop crisis centres, a national helpline and the effective implementation of the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act and the recently passed Sexual Harassment at Work Place Act.

Multi-sectoral Programme for reducing maternal and child malnutrition
This programme announced last year is to be implemented in 100 districts during 2013-14. It has been allocated Rs. 300 crores to scale up to cover 200 districts the year after. This is a grossly inadequate fund allocation which seeks to address 40% of children and 55% women in India who are malnourished.

Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS)

The ICDS gets Rs. 17,700 crore for this fiscal year. In response to galloping inflation, the amount is quite inadequate. A successful implementation of ICDS requires nearly Rs. 3 lakh crore over the 12th plan period as per an estimate made by nutrition experts while allocation has been for Rs. 1.23 lakh crore. Besides this, financial provisions for social security and additional remuneration for Anganwadi Workers and ASHAs, the principal carriers of the flagship schemes have not been made.

Anti poverty programmes and National Health Mission

The budget has enhanced the allocation for anti-poverty programmes such as Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (Rs. 33000 crores) and the flagship centrally sponsored scheme for public health-National Health Mission (Rs. 21239) whose principal beneficiaries are women as they are the poorest of the poor. The allocation for women specific schemes for economics services, welfare services and social defense have been increased up to 8500 crores.

Public sector bank for women
The budget has also announced an allocation of Rs. 1000 for an all-women public sector bank in which both the management and clients are expected to be women. The state owned Women’s Bank will work for financial inclusion and empowerment of self help groups, women entrepreneurs, self employed women and support livelihood needs of women. At last, the state finds women bankable!

The Reserve Bank of India will have to complete all formalities of license of the women’s bank by October, 2013. Bitter experience with private micro finance institutions (MFIs) who behaved like financial sharks charging 24%to 48% interest, used Self Help Group’s as foot soldiers and drove poor women borrowers to commit suicide due to harassment, has made rural and urban community based organizations disenchanted with the private MFIs. In this context, the announcement of a public sector women’s bank has given new hope to community-based women groups.

Nirbhaya Fund for empowerment of women

The sustained agitation by Indian youth and women after the gang rape of the 23-year-old (who was named by media as Nirbhaya) physiotherapist in a moving bus on 16th Dec. 2013 shook the whole world. To appease the angry youth, the budget has announced Rs. 1000 crore as seed money for a ‘Nirbhaya Fund’. However, there is no clear mandate for this Fund – that it will be used for rehabilitation of survivors of sexual violence and acid attacks.

Inadequate funds for education
There is no increase in allocation to education as suggested by the Kothari Commission in 1966. The focus on Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan is not enough. Aspirations for higher education have enhanced exponentially among Indian Youth. Government aided higher education and vocationalisation of education is the need of the hour. The Union Budget 2013-14, has failed in its duty towards the masses by leaving higher education to the private sector.

No fund for housing for women

In spite of repeated demands from the women’s movement for over 30 years, specific allocations for safe houses and shelters for women who face domestic violence, incest, and for homeless women has not been made. Girls and women facing incest are forced to stay in the same house as their molester for want of a safe shelter. Homeless women remain ever-vulnerable to violence on the streets.

To win over middle and upper class women, the budget has offered an incentive of raising the duty free baggage limit for jewellery for women passengers to Rs 100,000, subject to some conditions.

From 2004 to 2013, 56 ministries have set up Gender Budget cells. But to make their fiscal policy gender responsive has been an uphill task. Galloping inflation has affected the toiling poor women of India adversely whose real wages have declined sharply. Due to the withdrawal of the state from the social sector, women’s work burden in the unpaid care economy (cooking, cleaning, nursing, collecting fuel, fodder, water, etc) has increased many-fold. The subordinate status of women manifests in declining child sex ratio i.e. ‘missing girls phenomenon’, deteriorating reproductive and child health, feminization of poverty, increased violence against women, enhanced mortality and morbidity among girls and women and deplorable condition of elderly women.

Suggestions

1. Efficient utilization of funds
The Ministry of Women and Child Development suffers from under-utilization of funds therefore there is need of increasing public awareness of all women specific schemes by effective communication through community radio/ FM channels, electronic and print media in all regional languages. Leaflets on each scheme with a simple format explaining the procedure should be provided to be distributed at the Gram Sabha, the District councils and the Public Relations Department of State Governments. A Central Help Desk for women must be established at Shastri Bhavan, Delhi to look into redressals’ in cases of apathy by the state government.

2. State government participation
In Centrally Sponsored Schemes, where the Centre gives 50% or 60 % or 75 % share of the funds and the state government is expected to give 25 %, the ministry should pressurize the state government to contribute its share of fund, land, building etc. so that schemes can be implemented.

3. Reduce processing days
Political decentralization must be supported by financial decentralization. Once the fund is parked in the ministry, schemes and programmes must be immediately clocked so that fund flow is made available to the local self government bodies within a month. Processing of proposals by women’s groups, SHGs and elected women representatives must be done within 15 days of submission.

Checks and balances that need to be in place make gender budgeting more effective

a. Provide for people’s participation in both budget making and its utilization to make expenditure process transparent.
b. Women’s groups and citizen’s organizations should use Right to Information to deal with bureaucratic apathy/antipathy, bungling, corruption and leakages.
c. The Ministry must clearly spell out various components of funds, functions and functionaries in a particular scheme/programme.
d. The government must build capacity of elected women representative with regards to budget making, proposal writing and proposal defending, maintenance of accounts, and RTI.
e. Evaluation Studies need to be commissioned to highlight the gap between plan outlay and outcome, local and global implications of pro-poor and pro-women budgeting, alternative macro scenarios emerging out of alternative budgets and inter-linkages between gender-sensitive budgeting and women’s empowerment.
f. Government departments must be sensitized about the visibility of women in statistics and indicators by holding conceptually and technically sound training workshops by gender economists.

Prof. Vibhuti Patel is active in the women’s movement in India since 1972 and currently teaching at SNDT Women’s University, Mumbai