The All India Democratic Women’s Association rejects the high decibel interim budget of the NDA government. The arrogance and the tone of the budget shows that the Modi government has chosen to ignore the miseries of the people, and instead concentrates on a marketing blitz that to fool the people again. It may be recalled, that in the weeks prior to the budget, the AIDWA had submitted a memorandum to the Hon’ble Finance Minister in which it outlined the main challenges to women and their families. However, a preliminary look at the budget shows that the Interim Union Budget has failed to solve the immediate problems faced by women and working class families.
The budget also has to be seen in the context of the great statistical scam where the Government is busy manipulating GDP and employment figures to mislead the people that it has been the ‘best government’ ever in Independent India. Nothing could be further from the truth. Unemployment rates are at an all time high, i.e. highest in 45 years with youth and women’s unemployment surpassing all levels. Further, crimes and instances of violence against women have reached alarming proportions since the advent of the Modi Government and the Hindutva Brigade. India also ranks 103 amongst 119 countries in the Global Hunger Index 2018 and India’s gender pay gap remains one of the highest in the world. In this situation, India’s women and their families face extreme economic distress which requires urgent government intervention: however this budget only shows them a ‘vision’ of ‘minimum government’ which is touted as an ideal in these globalised and neo-liberal times.
The size of the government, i.e. ratio of expenditure to total GDP remains 13.2 percent, which is only 0.2 percent higher than last year. In this context it is also pertinent to note that the interim gender budget for 2019-20 has come down from 0.66 percent of the GDP to 0.62 percent of the GDP and the total gender budget has declined from 5 percent of the total expenditure in 2018-19 to 4.7 percent of the total expenditure in 2019-20. The allocation for the Ministry of Women and Child Development remains at a paltry one percent of the total expenditure. Hence the dream of an empowered woman is just a mirage created by the Modi Government to cover off its failures.
The last two years have seen massive farmer’s movements in the wake of extreme agrarian distress. Women farmers and agricultural workers have come out in large numbers in these protests with two basic demands: loan waivers for all farmers and minimum support prices. Instead of meeting this demand, the Union Government has thrown another jumla: Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi. Under this proposed scheme landholder farmers with land up to two hectares of land will get structured income support of Rs 6000 per year. Such a paltry sum of Rs. 500 per month is an Apmaan rather than Samman of suffering farmers. Further no relief has been announced for agricultural workers and tenant farmers (a bulk of whom are women) thereby bypassing the main people who are suffering in the agrarian crisis. This Government has not spoken a word of the rehabilitation or help for women farmers who belong to suicide affected families. We are sure that women farmers and their families will see through this hyped symbolism and false love for the agriculture dependent people.
This is also seen in the abject neglect of the issue of food security in the budget where the level of food subsidy remains almost the same, and has probably come down in real terms. The National Rural Livelihood Mission has also suffered in this budget. The allocations for ICDS have only gone up nominally by 10 percent which is barely enough to meet rising costs.
It is well known that more than 95 percent of the women workers are in informal employment and have been demanding universal social security. However instead of solving their immediate problems the government has shown them another pipe dream: the proposed Pradhan Mantri Shram Yogi Maandhan Scheme for unorganized sector and domestic workers. This pension scheme will come into effect once the worker becomes 60 years of age when a person will get a paltry Rs. 3000 per month whose value may be negligible by then. There is hardly any budget allocation ( a mere Rs 500 Crore to subsidise companies) for this scheme, and nor has any mechanism been worked out for its implementation. However what is clear is that the government is not bothered about the current jobless growth, and even the MGNREGS expenditure has come down by Rs. 1000 crore in this year’s interim budget.
The Finance Minister has claimed their commitment towards women by promoting the Ujjwala scheme for clean fuel. The government claims that it has already provided 6 crore free LPG connections and that it will provide 2 Crore more connections by the time of the elections. However, the actual allocation for Ujjwala scheme has gone up by just 10 Crores most of which is spent on advertisements. Further, studies on the scheme show that most women stop refilling their cylinders after the first time because they cannot afford to buy gas cylinders. In fact the Ujjwala scheme has resulted in profiteering by the oil companies. Another flagship scheme of the government, the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao scheme has not seen any increased allocations. Available data shows that not more than 60 percent of the funds were spent in this scheme and 56 percent of these were spent in publicity. It is evident that the government is busy spending more money in publicizing its hollow schemes, rather than doing actual work. There is also no improvement in the schemes addressing violence like the Nirabhaya Scheme and the One Stop Crisis Centres for rape victims. No additional allocations have been made for other gender related schemes, and in some cases like secondary education for women, the allocations have actually come down. The same is true of health care, where the increased allocations are barely enough to meet the premium of health insurance companies under the much touted Ayushman Bharat Scheme.
It is clear that the government is not looking at women, peasants and workers as their main constituency. The budget shows that the main aim of the government is to create a middle class constituency. It has raised the income tax exemption limit to Rs. 5 lakh per year, and also provided exemptions for ownership of a second house (a measure that is bound to benefit the real estate sector). As expected the government has refrained from taxing the rich by ignoring wealth and inheritance tax. Further, the Government is pleasing it’s so called Hindu constituency through the National Cow Commission and Rejuvenating River programme (mainly aimed at the Ganga). It is telling to note that while cow protection has received Rs. 700 Crore, the new pension scheme has received only Rs. 500 Crore from the government. Evidently cows are more important than workers for this government. This shows that the interests of women farmers and workers are clearly sacrificed for poll prospects of the Government.
The AIDWA calls upon all democratic sections of the society to expose the intentions of the government and mobilize all sections to defeat the corporate and communal agenda of the Modi government in the 2019 General Elections.