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Corporate Karza Maafi Soars, But Social Spending – New Lows

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By P Sainath:

This year’s budget write-off in customs duty on gold, diamonds and jewellery (all aam aadmi items, of course) is Rs 75,592 crore. That’s well over twice the “record” amount allocated to the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. As Prof Jayati Ghosh points out, the MNREGA has given billions of person-days of work to tens of millions of poor rural households this past decade. It has been allocated Rs 34,699 crore. (You can find the gold figure in the Union Budget 2015-16. Just go to the annexure marked Statement of Revenue Foregone) This giveaway on gold and precious stones in fact accounts for fully a fourth of all customs duty exemptions. Overall, the budget for agriculture has fallen by more than Rs 5,000 crore compared to last year. The concessions on customs duty on gold, however, have gone up by more than five times that amount in the past 12 months.

Meanwhile, the feeding frenzy at the corporate trough has crossed the Rs 42 trillion mark this year (or US $678 billion, if you’re among those whose overseas stash the Narendra Modi government has pledged to bring back to our sacred shores). Yup, 42 trillion. As in 12 zeroes. Relief for the corporate needy (and other well-off hungry) rec­orded in this year’s budget comes to Rs 5,89,285.2 crore. Or Rs 5.49 lakh-crore ($88 billion roughly) if you skip personal income tax which benefits a relatively wider group of people. And the freebies adding up to that total are just those under a mere three heads: corporate income tax, excise duty and customs duty. The Rs 5.49 lakh-crore figure brings the bills for the 10-year orgy to Rs 42.08 trillion. The public pays for the party. The guests enjoy anonymity.

Did I say 10-year orgy? It’s gone on much longer, actually. Just that the government started publishing revenue forgone data only from 2005-06. How much would the total come to if we had the data for earlier years? Oh, well, never mind. This is big enough. Rs 5.49 lakh-crore is the biggest ever instalment in corporate karza maafi in all the years for which the numbers exist. It is also close to 140 per cent higher than the giveaways of 2005-06, the year we started getting this data (see Table 1).


Write-Offs For The Well-Off Touch
Rs 42,000,000,000,000


Revenue Forgone On Gold, Diamonds & Jewellery
2005-06 to 2014-15



This year’s write-offs, though, come in new clothes. Take, for instance, the corporate income tax handouts. Till the 2013-14 budget, the table listing these was called: major tax expenditures on corporate taxpayers. This year the budget has caught up with the semantics of the elite. It’s now called revenue impact of major incentives on corporate taxpayers (emphasis added). Oh, goody. That makes it all fine then. These are incentives, not grabouts. Don’t crib.

Union finance minister Arun Jaitley told a gushing TV anchor last year that he “hoped” there would be no return to wasteful subsidies under the NDA government. He added that it depended on the situation as it unfolded. So here’s how it unfolded. Corporate income tax written off in the statement of revenue foregone of the last UPA budget was Rs 57,793 crore. In the first year of the Modi regime, it was Rs 62,399 crore—about eight per cent higher. It will likely be even higher since this year’s figure is still an “estimated” or provisional one.

But even going by the provisional figure, it means on income tax alone, the corporate world in 2014-15 received write-offs of Rs 171 crore every 24 hours. Or over seven crore every 60 minutes. Add to that the Rs 1.84 lakh-crore in excise duty waived and Rs 3.01 lakh-crore knocked off in customs duty and you have your Rs 5.49 lakh-crore.

A large part of the trillions in NPAs our banks foster was run up by the wealthy who can’t be named due to secrecy laws.

The media reported that Arun Jaitley has given the rural employment programme it’s biggest boost ever. What Jaitley has said is that he would add another Rs 5,000 crore…if there is tax buoyancy. Not so much a promise as a possibility based on other possibilities. Besides, the Rs 34,699 crore allocated for the MNREGA is actually less, not more. The central government already owes the states around Rs 6,000 crore for this year, which they have not paid. So, as Prof Ghosh points out, the new amount for next year will really be less than Rs 30,000 crore. In any case, the MNREGA funding being capped at the level (around Rs 33,000 crore) it has been for three high-inflation years has a different meaning altogether. But it would be wrong to pin this on Jaitley alone. The wrecking of this vital programme for the rural poor was pioneered earlier. Take a bow, P. Chidambaram.

You can run the MNREGA (on present allocation levels) for over 121 years on Rs 42 trillion. But of course we won’t, with a prime minister who makes a point of displaying his utter contempt for the programme on the floor of Parliament.

You can sustain the food subsidy at present levels of funding for 34 years on the Rs 42 trillion. You could undo some of the most savage cuts—to health and child-related subjects for instance. There is, as the HAQ—Centre for Child Rights points out, “a 22 per cent reduction in health-related sche­mes for children”, and worse, “a 25 per cent reduction in overall education programmes for children….”.

But the ‘statement of revenue foregone’ (which should actually be spelt ‘forgone’) reflects a gigantic increase in corporate freebies, in pampering the plutocrats. Customs duties knocked off on gold and precious stones account for more than 10 per cent of all revenue foregone in 2014-15. Take the 10-year period since 2005-06 and the amount lost on customs write-offs on gold, diamonds and jewellery comes to Rs 4.3 trillion. Curb the kids, grow the gold, is it?

There is something quite sickening about this Rs 42 trillion orgy. Something equally nauseous about corporate media quislings who rush to defend the “incentives”. There will be those who insist that these are ‘notional’ or “not handouts”. That “this is for everybody. All benefit”. Fact: the overwhelming share of these incentives/subsidies/write-offs/handouts go to the very well-off. That much, nothing can hide. And remember this: these handouts thr­ough budgetary baksheesh for billionaires are only one part of many such processes through which enormous amounts of public money are given away to the rich and famous (but for the banks and media, they are mostly anonymous).

The second point: all these giveaways listed in the tables are only a part of the total handouts beyond the budget, details of which are still invisible to the public. Like, for example, the trillions of rupees in ‘non-performing assets’ (NPAs) with the public sector banks. A very large part of this was run up by wealthy people whose names, it is argued, cannot be divulged under “secrecy laws”. The corporate media are happy to go along with that. Editors have learnt painfully that pursuing it can sometimes cause embarrassment to their owners. There’s an ethical rationalisation too. Banking laws, privacy, confidentiality. Never mind that when it’s the less privileged, banks run advertisements in new­spapers (as those in AP did in the past decade), naming petty defaulters and carrying details of public auctions of their gold ornaments to recover a few thousand rupees. No banking ethics and confidentiality for them. The media are okay with that, although they mostly stayed silent when the All India Bank Employees Association (AIBEA) named several hundreds of bigger defaulters late last year. That silence goes on till one of them gets to be such a problem it can’t be swept under the carpet without creating a large and ugly bump in it (that’s when a Vijay Mallya finds himself getting bad press).

Union MoS for finance Jayant Sinha said in a written reply to a question in Parliament that NPAs had gone up (alm­ost trebled) “during the last few years”. The amount, Sinha said, was over Rs 2 trillion. Then there’s an even larger amount tucked away in ‘corporate debt restructuring’. And quite a bit more in what are politely called ‘stalled projects’ (soon to grow up to be NPAs). Estimates of this kind of scamming run to many trillions of rupees (a lot more than the $88 billion budget baksheesh). Then there’s land grabbed from thousands of farmers and transferred at dirt cheap rates to large corporations. And other subsidies. Who says there’s no such thing as a free lunch? Just look at this mob and their lifetime meal tickets. Boy, what a menu they have on the table!

This article first appeared in Outlook as “So Richie Rich, Have Another One On Us“, Courtesy: 

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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