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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