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India – Demystifying the Union Budget 2017-18

 

By- Ritu Dewan  

The Bud­get is the sin­gle most cru­cial fi­nance doc­u­ment of the year, which ar­tic­u­lates in quan­tifi­able terms the ac­tual com­mit­ment of the State to its ob­jec­tives, both stated and real. The Bud­get 2017-18 not only de­mys­ti­fies the think­ing of the cur­rent Gov­ern­ment, but also re­in­forces sev­eral fears that have been ex­pressed in re­cent times re­lat­ing to what needs to be done, especially and specifically in the aftermath of the destruction brought about by the spectacular failure of the spectacular blunder called Demonitisation. The pur­pose here is not to ro­man­ti­cise the past or to de­monise the pre­sent, but to ex­am­ine what the Bud­get im­plies for the peo­ple, their econ­omy, and their is­sues.

 

The fun­da­men­tal ob­jec­tives of the State, in the clas­sic sense of the term are growth and em­ploy­ment – this Bud­get does not at­tempt to do ei­ther. The sin­gle most ob­vi­ous in­tent ap­pears to be the move­ment away from the rights-based ap­proach, ac­com­pa­nied by its di­lu­tion wher­ever it re­mains. The sin­gle most cru­cial right – the Right to Work – has wit­nessed a se­ries of re­duc­tion­ist mea­sures in the re­cent past – its cov­er­age has been con­sis­tently re­duced; its basic char­ac­ter of being an em­ploy­ment pro­gramme is being ‘chal­lenged’ by the ar­gu­ment that enough as­sets are cre­ated. The Rs. 5,001 cr. change in al­lo­ca­tions over the last year does not even begin to make up for the rise in in­fla­tion, and is much below that demanded by the states. Sim­i­larly, var­i­ous rights gained after sev­eral years of con­sis­tent strug­gle have been wa­tered down.

 

Among the most es­sen­tial con­cerns to any nation is the qual­ity of its labour-force as man­i­fested in the most basic level of Lit­er­acy Rates. But the Right to Ed­u­ca­tion has been vir­tu­ally de­nied by the focus on higher education at the cost of Sarva Shik­shan Ab­hiyaan, which has been totally ignored both in the Budget Speech as well as in allocations – and this, in a nation that has among the low­est lev­els of lit­er­acy, with sev­eral ex­cluded tribes re­port­ing sin­gle-digit Fe­male Lit­er­acy Rates. Additionally, one of the main causes of poverty has been negated, with the proportion of health to the GDP is among the lowest in the world. Is­sues of So­cial In­clu­sion, too, ap­pear to have no place in the Bud­get. The al­lo­ca­tions for Sched­uled Castes and Sched­uled Tribes are not even equal to half their share in pop­u­la­tion; 8% in­stead of 16.7% for the for­mer, and barely 4% for the trib­als, who con­sti­tute over 8% of India’s pop­u­la­tion. The same holds true of minorities, their allocation being a pathetic Rs.4195 crores to cover its 1.7 crore members.

The virtual non-recog­ni­tion of gen­der is­sues is rather un­for­giv­able, even though the Min­istry of Women & Child De­vel­op­ment has one of the best util­i­sa­tion of funds exceeding nine-tenths. It is in­ter­na­tion­ally recog­nised that the agri­cul­tural and the rural sec­tor are heav­ily fem­i­nised, pro­vid­ing liveli­hood to four-fifths of all work­ing women in India. Yet, nowhere is this recog­nised: pro­grammes such as MGN­REGS, PMGSY, Rashtriya Kr­ishi Vikas Yo­jana are all ‘gen­der-less’. As is the fun­da­men­tally de­mo­c­ra­tic issue of gen­der­ing gov­er­nance, being given, along with the Pan­chay­ati Raj in­sti­tu­tions them­selves, such short shrift.

No eco­nomic agency is as­cribed to women, in­stead, they are stereo­typed re­pro­duc­tive agents de­fined in the syn­drome of pa­tri­ar­chal se­man­tics; hence, the al­lo­ca­tions to women and their tag-ons in bud­getary terms – chil­dren, nu­tri­tion etc. The issue here is not to deny the im­por­tance and ur­gency of even higher fund­ing for these sub-ar­eas, but to high­light the in­de­pen­dent eco­nomic, bud­getary, fis­cal and fi­nan­cial sta­tus of women.

Be­sides, the im­per­a­tive of gen­dered fi­nan­cial in­clu­sion has been to­tally negated. Gen­dered fi­nan­cial in­clu­sion can be greatly en­hanced by equi­li­brat­ing fi­nan­cial and phys­i­cal tar­gets; this is es­pe­cially im­por­tant as women gen­er­ally take small loans, and the fact that while phys­i­cal tar­gets may be filled, fi­nan­cial dis­burse­ments con­sti­tute an in­signif­i­cant amount.

In­di­vid­ual tax­a­tion is pre­ferred, be­cause the eco­nomic ben­e­fit of work­ing de­pends on how much a woman earns and not on her lo­ca­tion in the pa­tri­ar­chal mar­i­tal struc­ture. The ad­di­tional tax ex­emp­tion to women was ex­pected to be re-in­tro­duced in order to in­crease her in­cen­tive to take up em­ploy­ment and shift her labour sup­ply curve. The Bud­get  ap­pears to have ab­solved the State of any re­spon­si­bil­ity what­so­ever of in­cor­po­rat­ing em­ploy­ment in its cur­rent strat­egy by in­sist­ing that women un­der­take their eco­nomic em­pow­er­ment through ‘as­sisted’ self-em­ploy­ment, while men do so by ‘skill’ en­hance­ment.

A bud­getary cri­tique, to be rel­e­vant and true, must be lo­cated within the con­text of the par­a­digm within which the bud­get is per­ceived. If the mantra is ‘higher growth lead­ing to in­clu­sive and sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment’ and if it is only ‘growth that will lead to in­clu­sive de­vel­op­ment’ then we need an ur­gent re­minder that in the last few years in India, an 8% growth rate has led to less than 1% re­duc­tion in poverty.

Ritu Dewan is

President, Indian Association for Women’s StudiesDirector Centre for Development Research and Action

Executive Director,  Centre for Study of Society and Secularism

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Comments (2)

  1. william robert da silva

    Dear Ms Dewan,
    It was for the first time an enlightening expose of the Budget with all the crap that has surrounded it from corporate-dominated media. I wish to congratulate you on bringing out the issues as they should be. Please do continue to be critical so that some intellectual reflection takes place as alternative to present day governance begun sometime in 1981 with the pouting PM and dumb FM become PM.
    William Robert

  2. K SHESHU BABU

    Many people may not understand the deep rooted complexities of the budget proposals. This article is a good effort to project the hidden truth in the allocations

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