Budget 2021-22 ignores women, threatens food security

Budget 2021-22 ignores women, threatens food security 2

Press Release: The All India Democratic Women’s Association denounces the Budget 2021-2022 as anti-women and notes that the Union Government has ignored the difficulties and penury faced by marginalized sections while formulating the budget. This budget comes at the time of the deepening economic crisis during the pandemic and the government’s anti-peoples actions that have been highlighted by the ongoing anti-farm laws agitation, which women have supported overwhelmingly. The labour codes and anti-farmers laws which have been brought in by the government will only place women and their families at the mercy of big corporate players. But the Union Government, not surprisingly, has chosen to ignore these concerns because it has been peddling the falsehood that a V shaped recovery (i.e recovery by all sections of the society) has begun.

This claim has been adequately contested by the India Supplement (2021) to the Global Inequality Report (Inequality Virus) which effectively shows that the megarich have recovered from the economic effects of the pandemic, whereas the mass of population is facing unemployment, falling incomes and extreme food insecurity. These concerns have been effectively highlighted by AIDWA and other women’s organisations who have been demanding income support, free ration and food subsidies and greater investment in MGNREGA as relief measures to tackle the aftermath of the pandemic. In addition, AIDWAhas been pressing for increased security of women as well as rehabilitation and support to victims of increasing instances of violence.

These concerns have been neglected within this budget which has seen severe cut backs in public expenditure. The Budget expenditure for the year 2020-21 showed that the actual revised estimate of the budget was 34.5 lakh Crore (or 17.7 percent of the GDP). The projected public expenditure is INR 34.83 lakh Crore for 2021-2022 or 15.6 percent of the GDP. This means that the Government aims to reduce its existing level of expenditure by about 2.1 percent, even though the pandemic is ongoing and the economic crisis is deepening. Seen in this overall context the Gender budget is facing a steep reduction from a revised estimate INR 2.07 lakh Crore (or 1.06 percent of GDP) in 2020-2021 to INR 1.53 lakh Crore or 0.4 percent of the GDP; the allocations of the Ministry of Women and Child Development are also abysmal at Rs 3310 Crore.

The reduction in the overall gender budget is reflected in important cutbacks in expenditure on nutrition and food security. In her budget speech the Minister stated that the focus is on overall health and wellbeing of the population and nutrition was identified as one of the pillars of wellbeing by initiating Mission POSHAN 2.0 consolidating the Umbrella ICDS scheme with Poshan Abhiyan, Scheme for Adolescent Girls and National Creche Scheme under one scheme. The total allocation for Mission Poshan 2.0 is INR 20100 Crore which is about 20 percent less than the money allocated for these schemes in 2020-2021. The expenditure under the Midday Meal Scheme has remained almost static and there is a projected cutback in food subsidy from the revised estimate of about INR 422618.14 Crore in 2020-2021 to INR 242836 Crore in 2021-2022 or a decrease of approximately 42.5 percent. This means that the government does not intend to maintain any kind of nutritional or other support for women. There is also a severe decline in the LPG subsidy support by about 60 percent. These cutbacks will only worsen a situation of rising malnutrition.

Another indication of the worsening livelihood crisis is evident in the lack of livelihood support. The allocation of MGNREGA has gone up marginally by a 15-18 percent over the projected allocation of the last year. The government has withdrawn the addition INR 40,000 Crore that it had made for the scheme as a part of its relief measure in the wake of the pandemic; this once again underlines its lack of commitment in addressing the livelihood crisis of rural families. There has been an increase in allocation for the gender component of National Rural Livelihood Mission by about INR 2000 Crore, but this increase is linked to capacity of women to bear the burden of credit. In other words the increased allocation is largely for credit. There are insignificant changes in animal husbandry and fisheries sectors too. In overall terms, this means that the women have not been given livelihood support.

This is also accompanied by cutbacks in the National Social Assistance Scheme, including widow pensions etc. The revised estimate (based on expenditure) for the National Social Assistance Scheme was INR 42,617.22 Crore in 2020-2021; this has been reduced to INR 9200 Crore in 2021-2022. This implies that the government does not intend to support the most vulnerable sections of society with extra or even increased assistance. It is silent on universal social protection for all women in informal employment and makes no institutional provision for their recognition as ‘workers’. It also ignores the demands of ICDS and ASHA workers.

The situation with women’s security is even more abysmal. The much touted Mission Shakti, amalgamating all schemes for women’s security and empowerment is about INR 3019 Crore, which is about 13 percent lower than the expenditure on all these schemes put together in 2020-2021.

Several public assets and government land are going to be sold to corporate players at low prices. The Budget also makes announcements for further deregulation of corporates and lays foundations for the penetration of corporate players in agriculture, fisheries and other sectors. All in all, the main focus of the budget is to promote the corporate takeover of public assets and basic services. This is bound to raise the costs of living and also put additional burden on women.These severe cutbacks in public expenditure will put women in an extremely vulnerable situation. The AIDWA calls upon its units and all democratic forces to raise their voice against this anti-people budget and intensify the fight for food and livelihood, security and social assistance for women and their families.

Malini Bhattacharya

Mariam Dhawale
General Secretary

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