Thursday, March 6, 2014

Heaping More Miseries on Indian Women

BUDGET 2013-14

Heaping More Miseries on Indian Women

The All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA) has issued the following statement on February 21:

AIDWA condemns the interim budget which claims to be swayed by “equity concerns” but which has imposed heavy additional burdens on women, making it even more difficult for them to exercise their right to a violence free life.   

An additional allocation for the Nirbhaya Fund, of 1000 crores carries little meaning if the survivors and victims of sexual violence are unable to access the funds for rehabilitation and relief purposes. It is most unfortunate that a similar allocation made grandiosely in the last budget has been spent only partially, and in a non transparent manner.  Moreover, what is the use of making an allocation while attacking women’s ability to survive in all other sectors?

Displaying fanatical loyalty to the neo-liberal mantra of curtailing government expenditure, finance minister P Chidambram has slashed nearly Rs 32,000 crore from funds allocated to crucial flagship schemes and other welfare programs in the financial year 2013-14 that is just ending. These cuts, while affecting crores of socio-economically deprived families, will specially harm women of the country as they constitute the most vulnerable section among the disadvantaged.

By brazenly cutting welfare spending in the run-up to the general elections, the UPA government is playing into the hands of the communal BJP because such attacks on the poor will only push them into the equally deceitful fold of the Modi-led party. Neo-liberal fundamentalism is feeding the rise of majoritarian fundamentalism.

Educational programs have suffered cuts of Rs 2240.34 encompassing the mid-day meal scheme, the primary education program (Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan) and the secondary education program (Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan). As it is, girls are discouraged from attending schools in higher classes – dropout rates are higher for girls. Moreover, key facilities like separate toilets for girls are needed to encourage parents to send girls to schools. These will suffer after the cutbacks. Mid-day meal is the only source for nutrition for many families and any cut in this program will see girl students getting removed from schools as families struggle to feed their children.

Drinking water and sanitation programs have borne a massive cut of Rs 2934 crore combined. Again this has a direct impact on women because it is womenfolk that fetch drinking water in most households. Similarly, not having toilets in the home directly pushes women into danger as they become open to attacks while going to fields/forests for attending calls of nature.

The ICDS funding has been cut by Rs 1290 crore. This program is crucial for providing nutrition to children in the 0-6 year age group and also to pregnant mothers. By cutting funds for ICDS today’s and tomorrow’s children are being condemned to malnutrition. In addition lakhs of women work as anganwadi workers and helpers under the ICDS. These too will be adversely impacted by cuts in ICDS spending.

The funds for MGNREGS have not been cut in absolute terms but they have remained stagnant over the past four years, hovering around the Rs 30,000 crore per year mark. In effect this means a cut because the number of people, especially women, needing jobs will get turned away.

The National Health Mission, which includes the dominant rural segment, has been curtailed by a massive Rs 2484 crore. This will have a serious effect on key issues like infant and maternal mortality. It will also affect immunisation of children. Over eight lakh women ASHAs who are at the frontline of implementing the program will also bear the burden of these cuts.

The National Mission for Empowerment of Women (also called Mission Poorna Shakti) was launched in 2010 to provide coordination between various women related programs and catalyse women’s empowerment. It’s spending was curtailed by more than 50%, from Rs 738 crore to just Rs 347 crore.

Various other enabling programs that support rural infrastructure and livelihoods have similarly been curtailed affecting poorer families with marked effect on the women. Total Plan Expenditure in 2013-14 had been projected last year as Rs 5.55 lakh crore in budget estimates but it stands slashed to Rs 4.75 lakh crore in revised estimates.

For 2013-14, the budget estimate for the department of rural development had been pegged at Rs 74,478 crore but it has been slashed to Rs 59,356 crore in revised estimate. Similarly, the budget estimate for the department of health and family welfare was Rs 33,278 crore but it has been slashed to Rs 27,531 crore in revised estimate.

The AIDWA calls on the government to halt the neo liberal policy framework that has spelt misery for the  common people, and strive for real equity  by introducing pro-people, gender-friendly measures in the budget. 

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