How Modi Govt’s Last Budget Before 2019 Elections Fails Indian Women

The last full budget presented by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley may be an ‘Election Budget’ and ‘Political Budget’, but it is definitely not one for women, with the share of the Gender Budget in total expenditure being cut.

The worst part? Allocations made exclusively for women have been cut by Rs 2011 crore. It’s a surprising fact, if you consider that the government this year has gone overboard to spend so much that it has its fiscal deficit target for the  next year at 3.3 percent of the GDP. The deficit target for the current fiscal was 3.2 percent, which has been revised to 3.5 percent.

In his Budget speech, the Finance Minister made no indication that he is going to shortchange girls and women. In the budget speech last year and this year, the words ‘women’ and ‘girl’ were spoken as many as 13 times. The Gender Budget statement of the year however tells an entirely different tale with lesser focus on women in the next fiscal year.

Gender budgeting was introduced in 2005-06 to mainstream “women’s concerns in all activities” and for “improving their access to public resources” where all ministries and departments are supposed to make allocations to “address the development needs of women”. This allocation, which rose from 4.4 percent in 2015-16 to 4.6 percent in 2016-17 and reached a high of 5.3 percent in 2017-18, has now reduced to about 5 percent – the first such downward trend in Modi government’s full budgets.

In the total such allocation made across the board for women, there are also schemes, projects, and establishments, where allocations are made exclusively for women. Allocation for these “100% Women specific programmes” has been reduced from Rs 31.37 thousand crore to Rs 29.36 thousand crore.This reduction has come after cutting down on 28 such targeted allocations made under different ministries.

Despite the promise of jobs in the Budget, when it comes to these 100% women-oriented programmes, some of the heaviest cuts – more than 50 percent – have been in schemes that enable women in getting employment. For example, ‘STEP’, a scheme financed through the Ministry of Women and Child Development for providing skills for entrepreneurship, has seen a reduction of expenditure from Rs 40 crore to Rs 5 crore. Rashtriya Mahila Kosh, which provides micro-loans to poor women, has dwindled from the already modest Rs 1 crore to a mere Rs 1 lakh.

In his Budget speech, Jaitley also emphasised on increasing employment through spending in the”Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises”. The women-specific allocation under the MSME ministry has however taken a hit. Allocation for the only 100% scheme under the MSME ministry, the demand-based Mahila Coir Yojana giving training, equipments, and stipend to women entrepreneurs of the industry, has been reduced by 38 percent to Rs 74 lakh. Six out of the remaining 7 women-specific schemes of the ministry have seen no change.

Women from the SC and ST communities have been allocated a bare 1.03 percent of the total budget, which Paul Divakar, general secretary of the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR) has called “a pittance compared to the needs of the Dalit and Adivasi women”.

Unsurprisingly for a Budget that has cut down on allocations for women, both portions of the flagship Nirbhaya Fund meant for 100% expenditure on women have seen cuts.The provision for the ‘Scheme for Safety of Women’ portion allocated to the police has been reduced from Rs 29.15 crore to Rs 19.75 crore. The provision routed through the Ministry of WCD has similary been reduced by about Rs 41 crore to Rs 359 crore.

Clearly, the Modi government’s talk on ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’ (the scheme thankfully has seen an increment in allocation) isn’t something that’s going to translate to action through expenditure. And if this indeed is a Budget meant to win votes, the government’s priorities are for all to see.