The All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA) and the National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled (NPRD) have strongly criticised the Union Budget 2022-23 for ‘excluding’ women from its much-hyped ‘Amrit Kaal’ vision and “belying” the hopes of the disabled rekindled by President Ram Nath Kovind during his address to the Joint Session of Parliament on January 31.
In her speech, Union finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman said the Budget “lays a futuristic ‘Amrit Kaal’ for women, youth and marginalised communities”. Unveiling a road map for India for the next 25 years during the 75th Independence Day celebrations last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had termed it as “Amrit Kaal”.
In a press statement issued after the Budget was presented on Tuesday, AIDWA president Malini Bhattacharya and general secretary Mariam Dhawale said: “The dismissal of the social reality is evident in the fact that government expenditure has decreased from around 16% of the GDP in the revised estimates of 2021-22 to 15.2% of the Budgetary estimates of 2022-2023.”
Despite Sitharaman stressing the importance of women in ‘Amrit Kaal’ and recognising the importance of “Nari Shakti”, the allocation for the women and child development ministry was increased by a mere three per cent from Rs 24,435 crore in the last Budget to Rs 25,172.28 crore.
Underlining the decrease in the gender budget from 0.71% of the GDP of the revised estimates for 2021-22 to 0.66% in the Budgetary estimates of 2022-2023, the AIDWA said: “The allocation for the ministry of women and child development remains well under 0.10% of the total projected expenditure in 2022-23.”
Similarly, the increase in the allocation for the ministry’s three umbrella schemes—Mission Shakti, Mission Vatsalya and Poshan 2.0—was insignificant. For example, the budget allocated for Saksham Anganwadi and POSHAN 2.0 was increased to Rs 20,263 crore from Rs 20,105 crore in 2021-22.
Sitharaman hiked the budget allocated for Mission Shakti (Mission for Protection and Empowerment for Women) to only Rs 3,184 crore from Rs 3,109 crore in 2021-22. Only the allocation for Mission Vatsalya (Child Protection Services and Child Welfare Services) was significantly increased to Rs 1,472 crore from Rs 900 crore last year.
Instead of increasing the allocation to Mission Shakti, Samarthya and Vatsalya in view of the “increasing instances of violence against women, the combined budget of these is well below 1% of the total expenditure”, the Association said.
The allocation for “umbrella ICDS programmes has also remained virtually the same. However, it should be noted that the government is not aiming to use this money to provide more food to children or better wages for ICDS workers. It wants to create 2 lakh ‘Smart Anganwadis’ focussing on IT and infrastructure rather than nutrition. The rights and demands of Anganwadi workers remain unaddressed”, the AIDWA said.
Highlighting how the government’s vision for ‘Amrit Kaal’ has “no place for women”, the AIDWA said that the combined expenditure on schemes like MGNREGS and National Social Assistance Programme and the programmes for the welfare of SCs, STs, minorities and other vulnerable sections has been “reduced from 3.2% of the total revised expenditure of 2021-22 to 2.5% in the Budget allocation in 2022-2023.
Though Sitharaman stressed inclusive development, neither there is “substantive allocation for social security for women” nor “significant tax concessions for working women”, the Association further said.
Criticising the Budget for “unabashedly” wanting to implement the “anti-girl/women New Education Policy” and promote large-scale online and virtual education, the Association said: “Girl students have suffered hugely in the pandemic, especially because of the promotion of online education. This Budget has virtually nothing to enable the opening of schools and colleges by allocating more funds for improving infrastructure for safe learning.”
According to AIDWA, the “stagnant level of funding for educational programmes and sports for girl students implies that Budgetary allocations for education will be diverted from scholarships and expansion of physical infrastructure to online learning and the needs of girl students will be ignored”.
The Budget “displays utter contempt for the concerns of women, farmers and working people” by decreasing all forms of corporate tax by three per cent, which will give the corporates a “bonanza on the road to ‘Amrit Kaal’.
The All India Federation of Anganwadi Workers and Helpers (AIFAWH) too criticised the Budget for “betraying India’s malnourished children and the Anganwadi workers and helpers” and called upon them to protest their “total neglect”. In a press statement, AIFAWH general secretary AR Sindhu urged all the scheme workers to intensify their struggle for recognition as workers, minimum wages and pension as well as for the rights of the children and the people for nutrition, health and education. “AIFAWH also call upon the workers to organise protests, including mass deputation/gherao of NDA MPs and gear up to the countrywide general strike on March 28-29.”
Terming Sitharaman’s announcement of upgrading of two lakh Anganwadi centres as a “hoax”, the Federation said that the Anganwadi centres do “not even have basic infrastructure, like drinking water and toilets”. Sitharaman said that better infrastructure and audio-visual aids powered by clean energy and an improved environment for early child development would be provided. “We would like to ask the finance minister what magic [trick] does she have to make better infrastructure for two lakh Anganwadi centres with no financial allocation?” the AIFAWH asked.
“As reported in the media, the so-called ‘Saksham’ Anganwadi and POSHAN 2.0 scheme renamed in the last Budget speech is yet to finalise its guidelines! This is at a time when malnutrition and hunger in India are at alarming levels,” the Federation said adding, “the finance minister has totally neglected the 26 lakh Anganwadi workers and helpers and other scheme workers. There is no increase in their remuneration in the Budget not to mention the minimum wages or pension.”
The AIDWA also criticised the Budget for “singularly lacking in any constructive measures” for reducing unemployment. “In particular, the allocation for MGNREGS, which is meant to provide employment to women in times of distress, has decreased by 14% over the revised estimates of 2021-22. It is worthwhile recalling that in the last Budget, this allocation had reduced by almost 40%. All demands for Urban Employment Guarantee Scheme have been ignored in this Budget.”
The NPRD said that the President had underlined that “accessibility, equality and a dignified life” for disabled people “is our collective responsibility as a society”, but such hopes were completely belied by the Budget the very next day.
From an almost 12% reduction in the allocation to the department of empowerment of persons with disabilities in the last Budget, “there has been a marginal increase”. However, “even then, there is a shortfall of Rs. 112.97 crore as compared to the 2020-21 Budget estimates”, the NPRD said adding that the allocation for the national programmes for the welfare of persons with disabilities has seen a “shortfall of Rs 20 crore as compared to 2020-21 estimates”.
“Even the allocation to the Artificial Limbs Manufacturing Corporation of India has been drastically reduced from Rs 50 crore last year to a mere Rs 0.10 crore.”
The NPRD also slammed the government for “refusing” to meet the demand for free and universal health coverage for the disabled and “removing the income criteria in the Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana for persons with disabilities”.
The government has also “failed miserably” in assuring any assurance to the unemployed disabled. “The privatisation of public sector units and the heavy loss of jobs during the pandemic warranted that the allocation to the National Handicapped Finance and Development Corporation be increased considerably to enable it to provide loans to small businesses set up by disabled people. In the last Budget, this was drastically reduced from Rs 41 crore provisioned in the 2019-20 Budget to a mere Rs. 0.01 crore. This time too, the figure remains the same.”
Despite escalating prices and disability-related costs, the NPRD said, that the Centre has “refused” to increase the disability pension of Rs 300 for more than a decade. “There has been no announcement of any relief to tide over the pandemic situation and job loss. Even the ex gratia of Rs 1,000 announced in 2020, according to the Economic Survey 2022, covered only 2.82 crore beneficiaries. Apart from the disabled, the beneficiaries include widows and senior citizens also.”
The goals of “accessibility, equality and a dignified life”, which President Kovind so eloquently espoused, “stand shattered”.
Meanwhile, the Association for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture (ASHA)-Kisan Swaraj criticised the Centre for its “deafening silence on its failed promises to farmers”. In a statement, the organisation said that for “for the first time in six years, the Budget speech did not even mention the promise of doubling of farmers income by 2022 even as we have reached the target year 2022”.
Pointing out that the share in the Budget for agriculture and allied activities had fallen drastically, ASHA said, “The budget for the ministry of agriculture and farmers welfare as a share of the total Budget has fallen drastically from 3.78% in 2021-22 to 3.36% in 2022-23. If we include the allied ministry of fisheries, animal husbandry and dairy, the share fell from 3.87% to 3.51%.
Besides the allocation for MGNREGS, which has “been a mainstay for providing incomes in the rural economy”, has seen a deep cut relative to the revised estimates and actual expenditures of the previous years.
“This is a big injustice to the rural poor. The actual expenditure in 2020-21 was Rs 111,169 crore, the revised estimate in 2021-22 was Rs 98,000 crore while the Budget allocation for 2022-23 is only Rs 73,000 crore,” the statement added.