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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