On the morning of February 1, 2017, India’s Finance Minister Arun Jaitley introduced the Union Budget for the year 2017-2018, stressing that priority would be given to rural areas, infrastructure and poverty alleviation.
We decided to take a look at what budget allocations have been made towards two of the country’s most vulnerable groups – the 2.68 crore people with disabilities, and 586.47 crore women who constitute nearly half the country’s population – to determine just how much attention the government paid to these two important groups this year.
Jaitley announced a ₹500 crore allocation for Mahila Shakti Kendras, which he described as “one stop convergent support services for empowering rural women with opportunities for skill development, employment, digital literacy, health and nutrition.”
Schemes under the Ministry of Women and Child Welfare (MWCD) have also seen some encouraging increments. The total budget for the Mission for Empowerment and Protection for Women has risen from ₹821.40 crores to ₹1089.02 crores, and the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao scheme shot up to ₹200 crores – more than four times the revised estimate of 2016-17.
This budget also focused on provisions for pregnant women, with the Maternity Benefit Scheme. Under this, 6,000 will be transferred directly to the bank accounts of women who undergo institutional delivery and vaccinate their children.
Near the beginning of his speech, Jaitley commented on how women’s participation in MGNREGA had risen from 48% to 55%. And judging from the allocations for the year 2017-18, the Budget appears to have kept women’s welfare in mind.
For those with disabilities, the budget has made some provisions too. Under the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment (MSJE), the Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities (DEPwD) has been allocated ₹855 crore, up by ₹71.44 crore from last year’s revised estimate. While PWDs were mentioned only once during the whole of Jaitley’s speech, he said that the newly-merged railway budget would make provisions for 500 stations to become disabled-friendly by providing lifts and escalators.
Funding for some schemes under the DEPwD has also seen a significant increase. For example, the budget for establishing colleges for deaf people has been set at 3 crores, as against last year’s revised estimate of ₹81 lakh. And this year, the National Trust (which provides capacity building opportunities to PWDs, among other things) will receive ₹15.22 crore, more than twice of what was set last year.
The Budget’s focus on the rural sector is also expected to positively impact the high number of PWDs living in rural India, with little or no access to skills and markets
However, the National University of Rehabilitation Science and Disability Studies, the chief objective of which has been research and opportunities in the disability sector – seems to be floundering a bit. Last year, the original allocation of ₹45 crore was slashed to ₹1 crore. This year the budget estimate has once again been set high at ₹35 crore, but could well be dramatically reduced, and this does raise some questions.
As per its Accessible India campaign, the government had earlier set a target of skilling 2.5 million PWDs by 2022. It remains to be seen whether this can be achieved through all these allocations and schemes.
While allocations to the MSJE and MWCD will directly impact the quality of life of both women and PWDs, the Budget Estimates for various schemes on health, education, infrastructure, job creation and skill development will also have their impact on these two populations. But whether or not they do, only the next 12 months will tell.