The Women and Child Development ministry’s move to restrict financial assistance under the maternity benefit scheme to only one live birth has brought in focus the issue of inadequate Budget allocation for welfare schemes for women. This year, Budget allocation for Women and Child Development Ministry is a mere 1 per cent of the total outlay and gender budgeting across ministries remains at 5 per cent of the total outlay, the same as it was ten years ago. Gender budgeting was introduced in India in 2005 in recognition of the fact that policies meant for the general population may not necessarily benefit women unless reviewed under the gender lens.
Development economist Jayati Ghosh points out how this year’s budget should have had something for women, especially those who are self-employed, poor or work in the informal sector, since they were the ones disproportionately hit by demonetisation. “The government can’t carry on as if this is a normal year and the shock of demonetisation hasn’t occurred. It was expected that the budget would do something to compensate them by increasing allocation to sectors that affect women, but there is no increase in real terms,” she said.
India has among the worst levels of gender pay gaps which is one of the rationale behind preferential taxation regime for female tax-payers. As per the latest International Labour Organisation figures, the average hourly salary for women in the country is 30 per cent less than that of a man.
The last time women were provided a relatively higher basic exemption limit was way back in the 2011-12 Budget.
HSBC India’s former chairperson Naina Lal Kidwai said a gender-responsive taxation policies would have been to encourage women to invest in property. “Concessions could have been provided in terms of lower stamp duty for property bought in the name of a woman,” she said.
The gender budget this year lists rural housing (where women are given joint ownership of houses built under Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana – Gramin) and LPG gas provision to poor households as welfare measures for women. “We agree that these schemes also benefit women, but they are not exclusively for women. Also, there is no sex-disaggregated data on the actual expenditure of various schemes listed in the gender budget,” said Kanika Kaul from Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability.
Avani Kapur from Centre for Policy Research pointed out that ministries such as Water and Sanitation, Urban Development and Law and Justice have not even presented gender budgets this year. Also, an analysis of the supposed 27 per cent increase in budget estimates of Women and Child Development ministry — from Rs 17,408 crore to Rs 22,056 crore — shows that bulk of the hike is in Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) and maternity benefit scheme, both underfunded. In the case of maternity scheme, the allocation for the in-principle universal scheme covers just a third of the estimated 2.6 million pregnant women. “The allocation for core ICDS has long remained neglected. The budgetary increase is marginal and barely enough to even pay minimum wages to the poorly paid aaganwadi workers,” she said, adding that when it comes to education, which is a big part of gender-responsive budget, the allocation for Sarva Sikshya Abhiyan is only four per cent more than last year’s.
Not only allocation, even existing funds meant exclusively for promoting education of girls have remained largely under-utilised. Revised Budget for 2016-17 shows that of the Rs 100 crore earmarked for PM Narendra Modi’s pet Beti Bachao Beti Padao scheme, merely Rs 42 crore was spent.