3 March 2011

The All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA) notes that the Union Budget 2011-12 reflects the continuing trajectory of the UPA-II Government on the neo-liberal economic path, without heed to the adverse impact it is having on the ordinary people. The fact that the Sensex rose more than 600 points after the Budget was presented by the Finance Minister indicates how well it has been received by the rich and business class, who have gained more than 1 lakh crores in the form of revenue foregone by the government in 2010-11.

Given the fact that the whole country has been reeling under the steep increase in the price of essential commodities, especially food and fuel items, the Budget should have included measures to strengthen the Public Distribution System. Instead, the food subsidy has been cut by 27 crores and the subsidy on fertilizers and kerosene by Rs 15000 crores that will push up price levels even more. No financial provision has been made for the Food Security Act that was part of the UPA’s election promises, indicating that it is unlikely to be passed. The proposal to target the kerosene and LPG subsidy through direct cash transfers to so-called “BPL” households will hit women the hardest. It is not clear what mechanism will be adopted to do so, and how corruption will be addressed, and there is no guarantee that the money will actually reach the women. Moreover, the value of the cash transfer will also go down as market prices increase. The proposals to mobilize resources through indirect taxes to the tune of Rs 11300 crores while giving direct tax concessions worth Rs 11500 crores means that the burden will be borne by ordinary people. AIDWA calls upon all its units to launching militant struggles to strongly resist these proposals.

Despite all its rhetoric the proportion of the budgetary expenditure on women, through the Women’s Component Plan (WCP) and schemes of direct benefit to women remains woefully inadequate at 5-6% of the total expenditure. In fact the allocation for working women’s hostels has been cut from Rs. 13.48 to Rs. 8.97 crores, and for crèches from Rs. 99.94 to 76.54 crores. Many of the schemes announced for women are selective, targeted and come with many conditions, such as the Indira Gandhi Matrutva Sahyog Yojana (Maternity Benefit Scheme) that is to be implemented in 52 districts or the ambitious SABLA scheme for adolescent girls which is to be implemented in only 200 districts. There is no Central allocation for implementation of the PWDVA Act. The allocations for SCs and STs are around 8% and 4% respectively of the total expenditure, far below the expected proportions of 16% and 8%. The allocation for the minority sectoral development programmes has been cut by Rs 200 crores; this will surely affect Muslim women adversely.

Despite the continuing crisis in the agricultural sector, there has been a decline in the budget allocation for the Agricultural Department. The demand for loan waivers and cheap credit remains unmet. The number of days of employment available in the rural areas has declined to 54 per year, but the budget for MNREGA has been cut by Rs 100 crores to Rs 40,000 crores. This means that any increase in wages on account of their linkage with the Agricultural Price Index as proposed in the Budget will result in a decline in the number of days of work! The grave situation of unemployment remains unaddressed, with no measures to create jobs; there is not even a provision for an Urban Employment Guarantee Scheme.

Although the increase in the provisions for Health (around Rs 25000 crores) and Education (around Rs 21,000) appear to be substantial, the real increase after taking into account current rates of inflation is actually quite meager. The proportion is hardly 3% of the total expenditure. There is no Central provision for the Right to Education Act which therefore remains unimplemented. The wages of Anganwadi Workers and Helpers have increased after a long and sustained struggle, but they are no way on par with current minimum wage rates, and the demands of the ASHA workers have been totally ignored.

In spite of growing evidence that the rampant profiteering by Micro-Finance Institutions (MFIs) is leading to suicides of women who have taken multiple loans from them, the Budget has awarded them a leading role “as an important means of financial inclusion”; there appears to be no move to cap the interest rates charged by them. Instead they are getting Rs 100 crores from the Central Government in the form of an Equity Fund”. It appears that the “Women’s SHG Development Fund” of Rs 500 crores appears to be a move to convert the Rashtriya Mahila Kosh into a Non-banking Financial Company. Our demand to provide loans to SHGs at 4% rate of interest has once again been ignored.

Overall, this Budget does nothing to alleviate the suffering of the working poor and the middle class who are victims of the neo-liberal economic policies of the UPA government. The Railway Budget is also a litany of promises with a record of unfulfilled ones from the previous years. The growing number of attacks on women passengers and the sharply increase in railway accidents has been ignored by the Rail Minister.

This CEC meeting of the AIDWA calls upon all its members to thoroughly expose the UPA government for its anti-people stance and launch militant struggles.